Television remains a great way for people to learn about things going on in the world. The right documentary film or series can have a lasting impact on viewers. With the likes of David Attenborough and Louis Theroux regularly presenting popular documentaries and pulling in viewers, it can be a successful medium for shining a light on topics that the public aren’t as knowledgeable about.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are roughly 46.8 million people living with dementia – over 850,000 alone in the UK – which makes it a topic of interest for TV and films. During May and June, two documentaries looked into the world of dementia in two different ways. Both with the aim of raising the profile of the disease and the people living with it. Sova Healthcare looks at both documentaries to see how successful they are.
Our Dementia Choir With Vicky McClure
Bafta award-winning actress of Line of Duty fame, Vicky McClure, fronted a two-part documentary series which focused on the importance of music and singing for people living with dementia. The show sees McClure work with specialists from medicine, music therapy and performance to help form a choir who will perform in front of an audience.
During the series, scientists combined pioneering techniques with the latest scanning technology to show how music stimulates a brain limited by dementia. The programme aimed to bring together a choir for a performance just three months later.
What was the inspiration for the show?
McClure lost her grandmother to dementia in 2015. During the time she cared for her, McClure became involved with the Alzheimer’s Society where she discovered how music and singing had a positive effect on dementia patients.
Studies have also shown the benefits of music therapy on dementia patients, including Cochrane who found that it improved symptoms of depression and behavioural problems.
Who are the people involved?
The show got twenty people together from McClure’s hometown in the Nottingham area, who all live with dementia. Included in the choir was Betty, 82, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years before. Despite her confused and absent-minded nature, she has retained her singing voice. There’s also Chris, 67, who has fronto-temporal dementia which affects the areas of the brain that control behaviour, personality and language. As the disease continues to take hold, he is becoming more outspoken and badly behaved. Couple Julie and Mick, both have early onset dementia at the ages of 50 and 51, respectively. The youngest of the choir at 31 is Daniel who has a rare genetic form of dementia that resulted in the death of his father at the age of 36. Tragically for Daniel, he’s not expected to reach the same age as his father.
The reception to the show was positive. The Guardian in their review of the show reflected how McClure was empathetic while interviewing members of the choir and the rest of the show took the same approach. The dignity of everyone involved remains intact, and it also highlights the true nature of the disease and the harsh reality of dementia.
The show also led to other dementia choirs gaining spotlight in local publications and one GP even called for doctors to prescribe singing over drugs because of the potential health and social benefits.
The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes
The Channel 4 documentary, The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes, first aired on Channel 4 on Wednesday 12th June and explored people with dementia and their working lives. According to iNews, four out of five people in the UK lose their jobs, independence and sometimes their home, when diagnosed with this terminal disease. The documentary, created in collaboration with Alzheimer’s Society UK, set out to challenge this issue to help volunteers rediscover who they used to be.
The producers set 14 volunteers the task of becoming restaurant staff to make viewers think again about the disease. The show followed the journey of the volunteers as they’re put to work and showed many poignant and feel-good moments.
Channel 4’s Head of Features and Formats, Sarah Lazenby, said: “A dementia diagnosis doesn’t, and shouldn’t mean the end of a career. This poignant and timely project aims to open the eyes of employers to the importance of keeping those who live with dementia in work by boosting their confidence and independence.”
Who is in the show?
Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton led a group of volunteers who all have various types of dementia.
- 23-year-old Jordan Adams who tested positive for Pick’s disease
- Avril Staunton, 63, a former gynecologist and obstetrician can no longer remember how old she is
- Legal representative Jacqui Tunnicliff, 61, who had to give up work after dementia damaged her memory
- Shelley Sheppard, 45, from Nottinghamshire was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s aged 43.
- Lorayne Burgess, 52, from Kent, who has frontotemporal dementia
- Former mortgage adviser Sandie Gibbons, 53, from Weston-super-Mare
- Former Formula 1 mechanic Roger Postance, 64, from Wolverhampton
- 53-year-old Peter Berry, who owned a saw milling company in Suffolk
- 62-year-old Sue Strachan, from Herefordshire, who has vascular dementia
- Former nurse Joy Watson, 60, from Manchester, who has Alzheimer’s
- Pete Trapani, 67, of Weston-super-Mare who used to be an engineer
- Sean Blackmore, of Gloucester, who has been living with Parkinson’s disease for five years since he turned 46
- Steve Vlad, 65, from Bristol, was diagnosed with frontal-temporal dementia and is a former plumber
- Lesley Morris, 55, of Newport was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2017
What was the inspiration for the show?
A Tokyo pop-up restaurant was created in 2017 with the same premise but the show’s producers decided to supersize the experiment to a fully sized restaurant. The aim of the project is to change the way the public views dementia.
The producers invited a selection of celebrity diners alongside members of the public over a five-week period to test the new staff. The volunteers learned the tricks of the trade for the month before to prepare them for working in a high pressure environment.
The reception to the first episode was positive, with many viewers feeling heartbroken on seeing how dementia affected the participant’s ability to complete the work. Tweets compiled by the Daily Mail showed how viewers were shocked that people as young as 23 were struggling with the disease. While some questioned whether it was safe to give dementia patients access to knives and raw meat, the general response was pleased to see the topic being explored, and expressed how they thought people living with dementia shouldn’t be left behind by society. The Huffington Post also echoed that sentiment saying “more needs to be done” for people with dementia.
What’s Next for TV and Dementia?
With 1 million people expected to be living with dementia by 2025, it’s vital that the public has a better understanding of the disease. If dementia in its various forms are shown on TV in a dignified way that raises awareness, it’s hoped that it can motivate people to engage as the long search for a cure continues. However, the increased exposure of vulnerable people must be effectively managed.
Sally Copely of the Alzheimer’s Society explained how consent was obtained during the making of Our Dementia Choir:
“We had the ongoing challenge of consent. We had a family sitting in during a meeting with a psychologist, and then every single morning we asked for the volunteer’s consent on camera with the same three questions: ‘Why are you here? What are we filming? Are you happy to be filmed?’
“As long as they could answer those consistently, and the family was happy, we were happy. We then showed it to the contributors and their families before transmission to make sure everyone was fine with how they were represented.”
Both shows had good intention goals that were clear. The UK must invest in people living with dementia, not leave them behind and people must be able to talk about the disease. While it may be frightening to those going through it, a better general understanding can only bring positive results in the future.