Filmed over 10 years, a “60 Minutes” report this weekend shows in startling detail the progression that Alzheimer’s disease takes on a patient.
CBS medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook began interviewing Mike and Carol Daly of Staten Island, New York, in 2008, shortly after Carol learned of her diagnosis. She was mildly forgetful but functional, although upset at how it had affected her ability to cook, or enjoy books and movies.
“I don’t want to be like this, I really don’t,” said Carol Daly, then 65.
LaPook went back to the couple, who volunteered for the project, six more times. By this January, Carol Daly was uncommunicative and slumped in a wheelchair with restraints holding her in place. She required round-the-clock care.
“It broke my heart,” LaPook said of the most recent visit.
While there may be clinical studies, the national Alzheimer’s Association is unaware of any broadcast report that followed a patient with the disease over this length of time in this manner, said Mike Lynch, a spokesman for the group.
“We would hope that it raises awareness about the challenges these families face, given that it’s a very devastating disease,” Lynch said. “People are aware of that, but to see it really up close and personal, it will have an impact.”
LaPook found the couple a decade ago when he was doing a story about research into treatment of the disease, and proposed the extended look. His first five reports were broadcast on “CBS Evening News,” and “60 Minutes” accepted his pitch to take a longer look at their experience. Considering most Alzheimer’s patients generally survive four to eight years from the initial diagnosis, Daly has already exceeded that.
Just as illustrative as the changes in his wife is the progression of her husband, a retired New York City police officer. He talked bravely of taking care of her at first, viewing duties such as helping her with her makeup as returning the favor for years that she had done things for him.
Years later, he said darkly of the burden of full-time caregiving: “I’m ready to put the gun to my head.”
After the cameras stopped, the doctor LaPook — instead of the television correspondent — evaluated him to make sure he wasn’t truly suicidal.
The report was an unusual and important opportunity, LaPook said.
“I think it will take your breath away,” he said in an interview. “It is very sobering, but it is information that people need.”
LaPook said he hoped viewers will realize the importance of talking about end-of-life and health care decisions while they are still able.
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