Neurodegenerative Disease

The Oscars this year and the movies represented there permitted us to face critical diseases that are striking millions in our country and around the world. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is one of these and is a focus in the film The Theory of Everything. Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking is so realistic and revealing that it seems that the two characters became one in this adaptation of Hawking’s life. Having lost a wonderful student and friend to this disease I have witnessed the horror as a loved one, a vital individual and tender being, was robbed of every ability in his slow spiral into paralysis. It broke my heart, but it moved me to action with volunteer work in our community.

A second disease, Parkinson’s though not the focus of a film this year, was concentrated in the faces of the audience as pictures of those who died this year played across the screen. Robin Williams, a brilliant actor and genuine person, may have died by his own hand, but his wife later revealed the news of a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. While the disease is not a death knell, the degeneration of body and physical control must be frightening and terrifying. Michael J. Fox has stood up as a representative of this monster, and maybe Williams’ death stands his way of exposing the tragedy behind this degenerative disease. I have observed shakes and trembles in loved ones and friends and can only imagine their fears.

Julianne Moore with her win as best actress in Still Alice moves Alzheimer’s disease to the forefront of our consciousness. Along with the movie of Glen Campbell and his battle with the disease also produced this year, and Alive Inside, a documentary from 2014, this neurodegenerative disease is being thrust from the dark silence of lonely individuals and into the minds and visualization of all of us. Instead of slowly melting away with the identifying tangles and plaques in isolation, hidden from sight and prying eyes, we now are permitted to witness a fiend that has affected millions, both those who suffering from it and the caregivers and families who provide comfort and safety for loved ones while their own health deteriorates.

I appreciate that the Oscar Awards do not just represent entertainment and frivolity but also encounter and attack issues that touch us all, if not directly in hundred of indirect ways. Hollywood stars, directors, producers, writers, and all of the other required staff have the potential to open our eyes, our minds, our hearts, our time, and our wallets to finding cures for these insidious diseases.

Although none have cures; each has similarities. Research has related these diseases on a sub-cellular level. The parallels of the diseases will aid in finding a cure for not just one but maybe for all. When conversation transforms from quiet, distressed whispers in backrooms and hallways into screaming matches across stage and screen, attention is drawn and generated to bring us to awareness and action. Thanks for these marvelous, insightful productions.