Back in the stone age when we were little kids, it was called senility. Probably, like me, you knew an elder or two – perhaps family or maybe a neighbor – who fit that bill.
Mostly, in my memory, they were just a little “off.” In one case, a neighbor was sometimes, but not always, confused about who he was or who I was. In another case, a friend's grandfather often lost his way while out walking and didn't recall where he lived.
Whoever found him – everyone in the neighborhood knew and understood his difficulty – walked him home and he seemed grateful for the help.
Without any facts whatsoever, all these years later I am guessing that anyone with less benign symptoms was kept at home or placed in an institution.
Nowadays, we call it dementia and too often use the name Alzheimer's disease as a synonym when, actually, it is the name of one kind of dementia; there are others. But for today's purposes that doesn't matter. We are talking about brain diseases that cause progressive loss of memory and cognitive ability.
Dementia is a terrifying thing to contemplate and it gets worse every time some well-meaning “expert” tells us that anyone who lives to be 85 has an almost 50/50 chance of becoming demented. Here are some other awful things they tell us:
• A new case of dementia is diagnosed in the U.S. every four seconds
• One-third of elder deaths are caused by dementia
• Old age is a risk factor for dementia
• Women are at greater risk for dementia than men
Lots of experts quote that last statistic but I question it. Women generally live longer than men so it could easily be that men, who might otherwise become afflicted with dementia, die before it happens to them and therefore both men and women are equally at risk.
All this along with the reports and research on the toll the disease takes on family caregivers makes dementia more terrifying than cancer – at least for me.
But frightened or not, I am always curious about it; I go out of my way to read books and new study results about it, and to see such movies about dementia as The Notebook, Away From Her, Amour, Robot and Frank, among them. There are more than you would think.
What none of those movies and research can tell us, however, is what dementia is like from the inside.
A few weeks ago, a simple little video game titled ALZ appeared online. Its creation is credited to a 21-year-old animator named Dylan Carter who writes at the game website that it is
”...an experimental short film in ever-so-slightly interactive of a format. Enjoy your walk. Interact with your surroundings. Or don’t. Have a forgotten, but hopefully not forgetful, experience.”
Nowhere can I find anything online to explain why Carter would know anything about the personal experience of dementia or even if it resembles what little is known about that experience. But is seems plausible to me.
Here is a screen grab of the opening scene:
I can't embed the game so I'm sending you to the newgrounds game site where it lives. If, like me, you are only vaguely familiar with how to operate games online, here are some easy instructions (this won't be difficult for you):
- Click the word “play” when it appears
- Hold down the right arrow key to move the character forward. Or tap it to go more slowly
- When [space] appears in the upper left corner, hit the spacebar to read the internal commentary of the character. Do this more than once to see the several thoughts in each instance.
Before you click over, let me mention that the video game is beautiful in its own, little way. And it is unutterably sad too.
Here again is the link to the video page. When you're finished, come back here let us know what you think.
By the way, if you are so inclined (as I was) to look for this on YouTube, please do not. Some #$%^& jerk has posted it there with his own commentary on top of the music that completely ruins the creator's work and the viewer's personal experience of the game.
Big hat tip to Steve Garfield for letting me know about this video game.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Carl Hansen: Piano (and other Life) Lessons