Living in a World of Encroaching Shadows

Louis Theroux. Extreme Love. living with dementia.

Louis Theroux investigates dementia in the USA

In his latest outing, Louis Theroux travels to the USA where he explores what its like to live with dementia.

He visits a care home called Beatitudes, in Phoenix, Arizona, where families and loved ones can live alongside the sufferers in a specialist unit for dementia, called a ‘memory support unit’. There he meets various colourful characters in the specialist care home, then cares for Nancy, a former New York model.

I am a great admirer of Louis Theroux. I love his offbeat and what seems at times, naive way of making documentary programmes. The way he gets involved to gain the people’s trust then seems to stand back to allow the true person or situation to shine through. Its his way of trying to get to the truth and I compliment him on how he makes it work in all the programmes he makes.

The programme begins on a comical note with Louis clattering his way through the living room door of Nancy’s house, we watch as Nancy asks who he is, “It’s Louis”. “Oh, Louis” relies Nancy. She then looks at the camera and whispers “Who’s Louis”.

Beatitudes Care Home

In the specialist dementia unit, at Beatitudes, we begin by meeting Janet, a new arrival who has just witnessed an intruder climbing through the care home window, after speaking to the care home manager Louis learns that it’s Janet having hallucinations.

He then speaks to Janet’s daughter Nancy, who explains that her mother, who only moved into the care home yesterday, had wandered away from her house leading Nancy to realize that she was no longer be able to keep her mum safe, so she had taken the emotional decision to move Janet into the home. “My mum knows I love her and the reasons I am doing this is to keep her safe”

Whilst talking to Nancy, Louis Theroux asks if she has talked to her mother about moving into the care home at Beatitudes. He asks if at any point she has mentioned to Janet that this is where she will be living from now on. “No, I haven’t mentioned it at all, she is under the impression that she’s just here temporarily, “Is it OK to tell white lies” asks Louis, “We tell them all the time here, we tell them all day long”.

Next we meet Gary Gilliam, one of the few men living at the home. He likes to think that hes involved in the dentistry business.

Whilst talking to the care home manager Louis mentions this and we learn how the manager uses this to ‘redirect’  Gary’s thoughts when he wants to leave the care home. “We get him to check our teeth” she says

John & Nancy Vaughan

Louis then goes to meet a home carer called john Vaughan who care for his wife, Nancy, an 89-year-old former dancer. Nancy is in the advanced stages of dementia. She is the same lady that we met at the beginning of the programme.

Louis talks to John about what its like to look after his wife, we watch as even though Nancy easily forgets simple things she still shows love towards John, who is 88 years old himself.

The program also explores the families and people who care and look after the dementia sufferers at the Beatitudes care home. We meet Gary’s wife, Carla, who visits him on a weekly basis and we watch as they take Gary for dinner with another lady. “Gary has two ladies in his life in the care home”, his wife explains. “I still love him, and am so saddened to see him like this” Carla explains.

Selinda & Glenn meet Louis Theroux

Another person we meet during the programme is happy 49-year-old Selinda, who is suffering from early onset dementia, it became apparent to Glenn, Selinda’s husband, that something was wrong when his wife kept misplacing car keys. She went for a check up and she was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s over 2 years ago.

Louis speaks to Selinda and her husband about the disease and we watch as Selinda struggles to remember her age. Glenn then asks his wife to ring their home number on their cell phone to highlight how she struggles with her memory. Selinda then demonstrates how difficult it is for her to even remember where the number 2 is on the keypad. She is unable to dial the numbers and her husband then explains, “this is why she needs care at home”. We also see that things are complicated because Selinda and Glenn also have an 11-year-old daughter.

The programme then flits between the care home at Beatitudes and the families who visit the residents of the home, and the homes of the loving couples Nancy and John Vaughan and the ever smiling Selinda and Glenn.

The programme goes on to explores what its like for the families of the individuals who are living with dementia in a very frank and open way. Louis looks after Nancy for a day and learns the pressures her husband faces on a daily basis when looking after Nancy and we also watch as Selinda and Glenn visit their GP and see Selinda put through a simple test to see how the disease is progressing.

The one thing the programme does explore is what the families intend to do as the disease progresses in their family members. We see Glen, Selinda’s husband, talk about what he will do in order to be able to afford Selinda’s care home costs as the disease develops. “I may have to divorce her and make her a ward of the state” he explains.

We also watch as Gary’s wife Carla talks about life without her husband. ” Are you sentimental, still attached” Louis asks Carla. “Its just sadness, not sentimental, everyday gets easier and better, I’ve done all I can do” Carla explains.

The programme finishes with Louis Theroux visiting Janet and her daughter Nancy, who we met earlier at Beatitudes care home, where we learn from Nancy that her mother has settled in and is much happier than she was before moving into the care home. “Its pretty cosy”, explains Nancy, “Its nicer now that I don’t have to constantly tell her what to do. I really don’t want to be your mother”, Nancy says to her mother Janet, “It’s nice to be a daughter again”

You can watch the programme on the BBC iplayer

Let us know what you think of the BBC documentary programme below. Is the USA system of dementia care similar to what we have here in the UK or is the care in the USA better or worse than ours?


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