April 26, 2011

UK: The agony of watching a loved-one stolen by Alzheimer's

LONDON, England / The Daily Mail / TV & Showbiz / April 26, 2011

The living death of Alzheimer's:
Jim Broadbent on the agony of watching a loved-one stolen by the disease

By Paul Revoir

Jim Broadbent, who lost his mother to Alzheimer’s, has spoken movingly about the agony of watching a loved one being stolen away by the disease.

The Oscar-winning actor, who plays an elderly Alzheimer’s sufferer in an upcoming BBC1 drama, said that ‘the victim dies, in effect, before they have physically gone’.

The sufferer’s family, meanwhile, undergoes a ‘sort of bereavement’ before the person actually passes away.

Broadbent is already famous for his sensitive treatment of the issue. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing academic John Bayley, the husband of Alzheimer’s sufferer novelist Iris Murdoch, in the film Iris.

He said his mother’s illness had started gradually but ‘then there was a sudden change’.

‘It happened overnight, like a slip, and she could no longer make connections in the normal way,’ he told the latest issue of Radio Times.

Praise: Jim Broadbent won an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 2002's Iris, where he played an Alzheimer's sufferer

‘The most distressing thing is that the person dies, in effect, before they have physically gone. So you are suffering from a sort of bereavement while their life is still going on.’

He told how he once found his mother at home in her nightdress, with tights over her head, holding a brick and asking: ‘When are we leaving?’

The actor said he hoped the BBC1 drama Exile, in which he plays the part of elderly Alzheimer’s sufferer Sam Ronstadt, could add to the ‘great work’ that has been done in bringing the plight of sufferers to ‘public notice’.

He told the magazine there were some similarities between his character’s case and his mother’s, particularly ‘the [sufferer’s] failure to gauge the passage of time’.

In the interview, Broadbent, who has also starred in two Harry Potter movies, said he was thankful that while his mother had become confused, it was the gentler parts of her character that became exaggerated.

She was cared for at her home in Lincolnshire by his sister for about a year before being admitted to a care home. She died from the disease in 1995.

A patron of the charity Dementia UK, Broadbent has urged ministers in the past to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research, to give patients a ‘fairer fight’.

In 2009 he urged politicians to think about how they funded research into the disease, saying this had been ‘marginalised’ at times.

At the Alzheimer’s Research Trust annual conference in the same year, he said that the ‘stigma was lifting’ but there needed to be more people ‘discovering, understanding and, ultimately, creating the treatments that people need’.

In a previous interview, the actor said that with Alzheimer’s disease the ‘person becomes a stranger before they die’.

‘The person you know goes quite early on in the course of the disease. You lose the shared memories,’ he added.

Copyright: Associated Newspapers Ltd