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'The Forgetting' examines cruelty of Alzheimer's

Documentary examines emotional, physical toll of disease
/ Source: The Associated Press

“The Forgetting: A Portrait of Alzheimer’s” tells you everything you never wanted to know, but better be aware of, about Alzheimer’s disease.

This important documentary, based on David Shenk’s best-selling book of the same title, begins with two vital points:

  • No one is immune from this deadly affliction.
  • With the aging of the U.S. population, the number of Alzheimer’s cases is skyrocketing accordingly. From 500,000 cases 15 years ago, there are 5 million today, with a full-scale epidemic likely in less than a decade as the first baby boomers reach age 65.

The economic cost of Alzheimer’s, in health care and lost productivity, is an estimated $100 billion, according to the film. Without remedies, the disease could escalate to bring the nation to financial ruin.

“The Forgetting,” which airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST on most PBS stations, is a combination of many elements. It looks back at the history of a malady so rare a century ago it didn’t have a name.

It portrays several families ravaged by this cruel disease (along with each victim, Alzheimer’s takes a terrible toll on loved ones and caretakers).

It tracks how, during a period ranging from eight to 20 years, this disease robs each victim of memory, a sense of self, and, in time, the ability even to swallow and breathe.

And it covers the research under way to slow the disease’s progression, which, in lieu of outright cure or prevention, would buy the patient (and the nation) precious time.

Following the 90-minute documentary is a valuable half-hour special, “Alzheimer’s: The Help You Need,” with David Hyde Pierce (”Frasier”) leading a discussion with a panel of experts as questions about the disease, and support resources for those it inflicts, are addressed.

In a phone interview, the actor, who watched both his grandfather and father suffer from the disease, recalled: “Long before the person actually passes away, they are taken from you.”

But despite his painful personal experience, “I’m glad,” he said, “that I’m one of the people who has been made aware of this disease and how close it is to all of us.”

Today he is a board member of the Alzheimer’s Association and an advocate in the fight to raise money and find a cure.

“As in every war, it’s very important to know your enemy and what you’re up against,” he said in urging people to watch the two broadcasts. “Whether or not this disease comes to you on these TV programs, it’s coming to your house.”