Albright: Regarding Alzheimer's

Feb 1, 2017

The world premiere coming into its final weekend at Northern Stage, in White River Junction, is called Trick or Treat, and it’s an emotional roller coaster ride. Playwright Jack Neary gives us a working class family trying to hold itself together in Lowell, Massachusetts. For years, they’ve been keeping dark secrets from each other, and from the rest of the town.

Alzheimer's threatens the life of the matriarch in some surprising ways. Her husband is torn by conflicting family loyalties in ways that breaks his heart - and ours. That’s where Neary finds dark humor, but it’s also why, after I left the theater, I had nightmares.

To me, a sixty-something woman, this beautifully performed play was more terrifying than any news I’d read that week. It’s a timely reminder that I - or someone I love - could fall prey to a stealthy, incurable disease that strikes someone in the U.S. every six seconds. In Vermont, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 12,000 people are living with Alzheimer’s – and that number is on the rise.

So we boomers, especially, need to exercise our bodies and brains, eat well, and, yes, maybe also plan for the worst - for a day when, maybe, we let someone take our car keys. But meanwhile, it’s heartening that many talented people - from playwrights to documentarians - are paying attention to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There's also a new series on PBS called Every Minute Counts. It’s really worth watching, with supporting materials and suggestions for getting involved in battling this frightening epidemic that’s already overwhelming our health care system. Doctors are getting closer to cracking the code that seems to lock up a damaged brain, but more research is needed.

In Vermont, the Alzheimer’s Association is doing its part with a 24/7 helpline, links to community resources including a statewide dementia plan for Vermont, and fundraisers like the Camel’s Hump Challenge coming up this month. All good, and it couldn’t hurt to catch one of the final performances of Trick or Treat, or remember to put down your crossword puzzle and tune into PBS’s Every Minute Counts.

Because, in fact, it really does.