Absence is a Play

Absence is a play, by Peter M. Floyd, about Alzheimers. It was part of a week long marketing effort by Integracare, parent corporation of Candle LIght Cove in Easton, MD, to bring awareness to their memory unit.  They want to have full occupancy which helps pay the bills and makes it possible for people with enough money to be able to have a safe place for those they love. That’s my cynical take. The week was also meant to be educational for professionals and families. All proceeds of the play ticket sales went to the Alzheimer’s Association

The play was heartbreaking, and difficult to watch. It made me want to cry. If I hadn’t been sitting in the middle of a row near the front with a friend, I would have left. I reminded myself that if you are caring for someone with dementia, you can’t leave. And quite possibly can’t afford the best residential care.

I suspect my cynicism was in part an emotional reaction to the play. As a playwright, I thought there were some problems with the structure and pacing of the play. Denial at work again? Maybe I was thinking about play structure so I didn’t start sobbing at what it must be like to lose the memories that make us who we are.

I wanted to go home and find a Doris Day movie on Netflix, lose myself in well-lit sets where beautiful people struggle with life, but always have a happy ending. As my friend and I walked into the parking lot, I was so absorbed that I almost tried to get in someone else’s car. I so hope that is not an early symptom of a downward slide.

Part of the week involved workshops and activities for professional care givers. A friend in my morning yoga class took part in a sensory deprivation exercise. She said it was extremely disorienting, but she was glad she’d done it. It gave her a better idea of what having dementia would be like. I think I’ll stick with denial for now.

It is estmated that 10% of people 65 and over have Alzheimers, and one-third of people age 85 and older (32 percent) have the disease. If other forms of dementia are added to that number it could be much higher. So kudos to all the people in the community who participated in bringing awareness to this issue. But the cynic in me wonders how the heck our country going to take care of all these people. I suppose women can quit their jobs and stay home to care for the elderly. Maybe lower income people without access to adequate healthcare won’t live long enough to develop dementia.

And then I wonder how the pharmaceutical industry is going to benefit. Would they really want to cure this disease? 10% of the increasing demographic of our aging population — that’s a lot of drug sales. What if the answer is less alcohol, less sugar and non GMO food? Or more good fat in our diets?  I’m cynical enough to think that profitability always seems to win. And that really makes me want to cry.