I listened to Fade to Darkness: The Age of Alzheimer’s on Boston NPR’s station 90.0 WBUR
The piece uses a very compelling character Dr. Ralph Kelly, 59, a former doctor and researcher who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about a year and half ago to open the piece. The reporter follows him around at home with his family of 3 young children and his wife, the scene is compelling because you hear normal making dinner sounds (plates banging, kids talking excitedly) it seems so mundane and yet this family is struggling with a debilitating illness that is sure to take Dr. Kelly’s life within 4-6 years. The reporter uses this segment to talk about the difficulties of taking care of someone of Alzheimer’s, Dr. Kelly’s wife talks about her experience and so does a member of her Alzheimer’s caretaker support group.
Devora Korman, 77, was diagnosed 5 years ago. She has been a part of clinical trials to help her slow down the progression of the disease. Again, the reporter uses home scenes and a scene at a doctor’s office in which she fails a memory test. They introduced a new element of this story in this segment: conducting drug trials on people who are showing no signs of Alzheimer’s but who have markers that may predispose them to the disease. They use Korman as a contrast to this new approach, as she’s representative of the typical Alzheimer’s patient who participates in clinical trials: older and already in the full throes of Alzheimer’s.
The reporter presents other interesting characters: the Marascas family, 2 children of a 56 year old woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s and they discuss when they realized something was wrong with their mother. This was a good way of framing the debate of whether people should get tested for markers of Alzheimer’s or not–both Marascas children decided not to. And how these tests could in the future facilitate a cure.
In the final segment, the reporter introduces an interesting scene in which she describes a beach before she brings in the sounds of the sea and surf. Congressman Marky recalls summers spent on that beach with his family. Years later, his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and he recalls again how he and his father would take his mother to the beach, this time though, with her strapped in so she couldn’t get out and wander off. This was how the reporter introduced the topic of funding for Alzheimer’s research as Congressman Marky is now an advocate for increased Alzheimer’s research funding.
The final character is Bernice Pollard, a caregiver for her elderly mother who is in the late stages of the disease: immobile and unable to speak. The reporter introduces her and her family through another home scene, the sounds of Bernice looking for socks, an item that’s familiar to her mom. They use this scene to talk about the difficulty funding care for Alzheimer’s patients in assisted-living facilities, which leads many people to care for their loved ones at home (in itself a financial hardship) rather than place them in a nursing home which Medicare does pay for.
The radio piece as a whole, was quite long and dealt with a difficult topic with a lot of aspects to it: emotional toll, search for a cure, funding for research, funding for care and did it all with interesting characters which anchored each segment. I think bringing in characters to represent a certain element of a broad topic is a good way of structuring stories and humanizing an issue.