Intimate Profiles of Seven People Living With The Disease
Reveal The Devastating Effect Of Alzheimer’s
As the baby-boom generation reaches retirement, Alzheimer’s is rapidly becoming a leading health issue for all Americans. Survival time after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be four to six years, but may be as long as 20 years. THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT seeks to bring a new understanding of the disease, from the personal experience of living with it, to caregiving and the scientific advances being made to today.
THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT: THE MEMORY LOSS TAPES, a 90-minute verité documentary, captures the devastating experience of memory loss from the point of view of the person with the disease. Bringing viewers into the quiet world of seven patients, each in an advancing state of dementia and ranging across the full spectrum of Alzheimer’s, the film bears witness to what it’s like to slowly lose one’s mind. The moving stories bring viewers face-to-face with the tragedy of lost identity, chronicling the disease through the course of its irreversible decline.
THE MEMORY LOSS TAPES, the first part of THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT, a four-part multi-platform documentary series, debuts SUNDAY, MAY 10 (9:00-10:30 p.m. ET/PT). The film is directed and produced by Emmy® winner Shari Cookson and Nick Doob, and is created by the award-winning team behind HBO’s acclaimed “Addiction” project.
Other HBO playdates: May 12 (5:30 p.m.), 14 (10:30 a.m., 10:00 p.m.), 16 (3:30 p.m.) and 25 (12:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m.)
HBO2 playdates: May 13 (8:00 a.m., 8:00 p.m.) and 21 (10:00 a.m., 11:15 p.m.)
Among the emotionally gripping stories: a woman in a nursing home who thinks her mirrored reflection is her “best friend,” and is haunted by imaginary snakes crawling over her wheelchair; a father who can no longer remember his family, but can still steal the spotlight when performing in public with a local singing group; and the onetime host of a kids’ TV show, whose loving wife brings him to a hospice after his body finally starts shutting down.
Featured in THE MEMORY LOSS TAPES:
Two months after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, 87-year-old Bessie Knapmiller remains physically and socially active. Living alone and continuing to drive, she is highly autonomous and seemingly healthy, although her frustration and loss of memory are evident. With a family history of the disease, Knapmiller is initially resistant to taking medication because her older sister, whose health is also declining, was treated for Alzheimer’s to no avail. She ultimately agrees to take the medicine for fear that she will otherwise burden her kids.
At the insistence of her daughter, who fears her mother’s decision-making skills are no longer up to par, 76-year-old Fannie Davis (diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four months ago) takes a driving test. After forgetfulness of the car’s functions causes her to fail the test, Davis mourns her “loss of independence.”
A once-brilliant computer programmer, 63-year-old family man Joe Potocny’s mood has declined since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years ago. He says that he feels like he’s losing parts of himself every day, and reveals to his therapist that when he feels he’s no longer himself, he will commit suicide to avoid burdening his family. In an effort to articulate his confusion and frustration and connect with fellow Alzheimer’s peers, Potocny creates a “Living with Alzheimer’s” blog.
Diagnosed four years ago, 75-year-old Yolanda Santomartino is a wheelchair-bound nursing home resident. She befriends her mirrored reflection, thinking it to be a new resident named Ruth, and believes snakes inhabit her wheelchair. When Santomartino’s son visits, she believes they’ve just met, even when he talks to her about his childhood. Frustrated by nursing-home life and tormented by delusions she cries, “This is no life.”
Woody Geist, 78, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 14 years ago and lives in a home for the memory-impaired, where nurses and attendants quiz residents on trivia to reinforce memory skills. He is physically active, but forgets about his wife and family, behaving as if he’s married to a woman at the home named Kathy. When his daughter and wife take him out for a performance with his old singing group, which his family believes strengthens his memory connections, his recollection for song lyrics is astounding, given his condition.
Former artist Josephine Mickow, age 77, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s ten years ago. Her daughter left her job in the city and moved back home to the family farm to take care of her. After Mickow was diagnosed, she channeled her emotions by painting over much of her art with plain white paint, and now leaves groupings of odd items around the house. Her daughter calls these “vignettes” and takes comfort in them, feeling they show a glimmer of her old mother. Having never had children herself, Josephine’s daughter admits that she imagines caring for her mother is much like what motherhood would be.
Cliff Holman, age 77, lives at home with his wife Ann and a hospice nurse, both of whom he rarely recognizes. Diagnosed seven years ago, his health and memory are now rapidly declining. He once starred as a magician on the TV show “Cousin Cliff’s Clubhouse,” and today is consumed with the need to get to the studio for the show. With his Alzheimer’s in a terminal stage, his wife Ann has chosen not to use extraordinary means to keep him alive. Holman is later admitted into a hospice facility.
THE MEMORY LOSS TAPES pays homage to those living with Alzheimer’s disease, from its earliest signs to the final stages of the disease.
While there is no cure for the disease, THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT shows there is now genuine reason to be optimistic about the future. THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT takes a close look at groundbreaking discoveries made by the country’s leading scientists, as well as the effects of this debilitating and fatal disease both on those with Alzheimer’s and on their families.
Seeking to bring a wider understanding, THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT features a four-part documentary series, 15 short supplemental films, a robust website and a nationwide community-based information and outreach campaign. A book published by Public Affairs Books was developed by the producers as a companion to the project. HBO will use all of its platforms, including the HBO main service, multiplex channels, HBO On Demand, HBO Podcasts, hbo.com, HBO Channel on YouTube and DVD sales, to support the project. In addition, all films will stream free of charge on hbo.com and will be offered for free on multiple platforms by participating television service providers.
In addition to THE MEMORY LOSS TAPES, the three other documentaries in THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT are “ ‘Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am?’ with Maria Shriver,” capturing what it means to be a child or grandchild of one who suffers; the two-part “Momentum in Science,” exploring the latest research advances; and “Caregivers,” focusing on five people caring for loved ones with the disease.
The ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT is presented by HBO Documentary Films and the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health in association with the Alzheimer’s Association®, Fidelity® Charitable Gift Fund and Geoffrey Beene Gives Back® Alzheimer’s Initiative. The series producer is John Hoffman; the executive producers are Sheila Nevins and Maria Shriver.
For more information on THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT and Alzheimer’s disease, go to HBO.com/alzheimers.