Tag Archives: treatments for dementia

Dementia on TV

Social science research suggests that our views of reality are often shaped by what we see on television. Now that characters with dementia are popping up on TV, people who have no contact with the disease may view these fictions as portraits of the real thing. Do you think Hollywood is getting it right?

For a while I’ve been tracking two TV characters with distinct forms of dementia. Maw Maw, on the weekly comedy Raising Hope, is the great-grandmother of the Chance family. Cloris Leachman portrays Maw Maw as an endearing person with advanced Alzheimer’s. Her bizarre behavior can be both troubling and useful.  In some episodes, Maw Maw has incredibly lucid moments during which she can fix household appliances — in other shows she lapses into a comatose state or takes her clothes off in public places. There have been a few episodes where things went way over the top — like when Maw Maw attended a wake and stole the dress off a corpse. But every character on this show gets caught doing ridiculous things, so the person with dementia isn’t too much crazier than the other members of the family. For me, the best aspect of this show is the love displayed by all these fictitious creatures and the joy of life that animates their goofy household.

The Kane family, on Boss, enjoys none of this happiness. They have money and power, but they seethe with anger and shared disappointment. Along with the rest of Chicago, the Kanes live in thrall to their family patriarch, the city’s ruthless mayor who secretly suffers from Lewy Body dementia. In recent episodes, Kane’s disease has taken center stage. He’s been whiplashed by hallucinations and manic fits while trying to run an urban empire and keep his foes in check. Since Kane won’t relinquish the reins of power, he has embraced untested therapies to manage his symptoms. His “alternative” cure required injections of stem cells — followed by shock treatments. I haven’t seen the final episodes so I’m not sure if the procedures will improve Kane’s health — or just make him more of a tyrant. The most compelling element of the character is his constant struggle to deal with delusions and keep a grip on reality.

If you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, you might enjoy watching some episodes or just viewing clips of these programs online. If you don’t like the way the disease is portrayed, you can share your opinions on the shows’ websites. Our comments won’t transform the television industry. It revolves around short scripts that maximize melodrama. But we can still complain if we think their images give people an unfair picture of dementia. What are your thoughts?

Out-of-the-Box Cures for Dementia — Have Any Worked for You?

My family has long since passed the point where we race to see if we can get access to the newest “miracle cure” for my mom’s form of dementia. But before we arrived at this stage of patient acceptance, we tried some weird treatment options. I still wonder if any of them made a difference.

Have you tried any of these:

Chelations:  These are intravenous treatments that are supposed to clear the body of toxic metals that may (or may not) contribute to the development of plaques in the brain. There is not a lot of scientific evidence to document the effectiveness of this treatment, but there is a lot of anecdotal chatter.

Methylene Blue: This is an agent that is used in chemical staining procedures to study DNA and other microscopic substances.  By therapeutic coincidence, it was found to have some positive effects on the cognitive functions of advanced Alzheimer’s patients. Studies ensued to determine how methylene blue works and to what degree. The theory is that methylene blue inhibits the growth of Tau proteins in the brain. It also turns the patient’s urine a blue/green color.

Food supplements: This included a variety of enzymes to improve Mom’s digestion and help her absorb more of the nutritional elements in her diet. We also drank a LOT of wheatgrass.

None of these non-pharmaceutical treatments have been studied thoroughly through any kind of sustained, experimental design that would permit conclusive statements about their effects. On an anecdotal basis, I’d say that for us the food supplements were the most helpful because they helped cure my Mom of acid reflux, making it possible for her to eat a wider variety of foods. This advance made my life easier because I could cook a broader range of meals to keep us both healthy (and happy).

In retrospect, the methylene blue seems like the most cockamamie venture we embraced. At the time we were introduced to it, there was no clear laboratory protocol for its administration. Since then, some studies for drugs based on methylene blue have been promising. But Mom hated the taste of it and was freaked out by the fact that it turned her urine blue.  If the treatment had any positive effects, they were nullified by her extreme resistance to taking it.

Since we have moved so far down the road, it’s hard to know what (if any) effect the chelations had. My mom always seemed peppier after an afternoon of intravenous activity. But I think the greatest benefit may have been that it drew me close to her when I took her for treatment every week. This time together made me see how serious her illness was, how hard she was working to hide it, and how much she needed our help.

Which out of the box treatments have you tried? If you have a success story, please share!