A comedy about Alzheimer’s disease?
No, it’s not a joke. According to deadline.com, television titan ABC just purchased a new show called “The Alzheimer’s Project.”
In stark contrast to the 2009 HBO documentary that shares its name, the new show is rumored to have a comedic bent and the story line will focus on a father with Alzheimer’s as he attempts to rekindle his relationship with his family. Sam Sklaver, previously a staff writer for “Bored to Death,” an HBO detective dramedy, will be writer and executive producer of the show.
People whose loved ones suffer from Alzheimer’s are often encouraged to embrace the humorous moments that will inevitably arise. However, Alzheimer’s also engenders a great deal of pain and loss. Balancing the elements of comedy, realism and respect for those with the disease will be a challenging task if the show is ever brought to primetime.
The most recent example of a network trying to use comedy to tackle a difficult health issue is NBC’s “The Michael J Fox Show,” where actor and long-time Parkinson’s sufferer, Michael J. Fox plays a newscaster with Parkinson’s who is trying to deal with his disease while juggling his family life and his career. The show has earned mixed reviews from critics and viewers.
But Alzheimer’s carries a staggeringly large stigma that may make it more difficult to appropriately address in sitcom form.
Caregivers of family members who have Alzheimer’s disease offered mixed responses to the news of a potential Alzheimer’s comedy:
- “Is no subject taboo? Raising awareness would be more like a drama on the Lifetime channel about the disease. Compassionate awareness does not have its place in comedy.”
- “Isn’t this more of a documentary topic? Good luck trying to take something serious and making it funny, day in and day out. This is not to say that there aren’t events that give a chuckle, or maybe a funny statement, but the majority of the time, it’s pretty intense and not at all funny. Not really. Also, it will distract from the real-life caregiving that so many of us here do.”
- “Do we really want Alzheimer’s reduced to this level? There is little enough respect for this disease and the people who have it—and the people who care for them. There are occasional offbeat incidents that happen, but they should be private, not fodder for anonymous people.”
- “Laughter is great medicine for the heart. There’s a lack of education about Alzheimer’s and sitcoms over the years have brought proverbial ‘elephants in the room’ to the forefront in a palatable way.”
- “How far will they go? To where the person doesn’t know their family anymore—till death? I hope it’s done with comedy but with truth about the heartbreak it brings to families.”
- “There is a fine line they cannot cross. Things that viewers may find funny may be quite insulting for all of us caretakers suffering from the ordeal of dealing with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s.”
- “There is so much potential for a show like that. Hire some of us as consultants. Portraying it kindly and humanely—yet at the same time humorously—would be a challenge. Showing the various stages would be so informative for so many people who are clueless about Alzheimer’s.”
- “The topic would need to be treated with dignity and respect for all parties. As with anything, there are funny events that occur in daily life that we laugh with not at. I don’t believe it will be a big hit, as many people don’t want to view reality up close, but education is key to support and advocacy. Good writing would be key—by someone who understands more than just the stereotypes.”
- “A sitcom about Alzheimer’s might be funny to people who’ve never had close experience with it. To the rest of us—and there are many—there’s nothing funny about it. Every episode would remind me of my mom, and the horror of the disease.”
- “I can’t really see it as a sitcom. When I turn on the TV, I want to escape the life we face each day, not watch it played out by actors who don’t have a clue.”
- “By all means, make the show. We need education through film, television—whatever we can get our hands on. But have characters that mirror the struggles that many of us experience: isolation, being broke, and trying to pull off the impossible.”
- “My mother would be the first to approve. She was absolutely insistent that we laugh at the mishaps that were caused by her disease. Her directive was that we keep a list of all the things she did and tell funny stories at her funeral.”
Ultimately, no one knows how such a show will fare until it’s available for public consumption. But one thing remains abundantly clear: our society is in desperate need of some real education about how Alzheimer’s impacts the individuals with the disease, and their families.
A newly created initiative entitled, Fade to Blank: Life Inside Alzheimer’s, aims to fill in our knowledge gaps by telling the real-life stories of three families trying to cope with the disease. The amazing accounts of these courageous individuals are meant to change the way the world views Alzheimer’s.