Posts Tagged ‘david e. kelley’

Boston Legal has a new storyline. Denny, played by William Shatner, has Alzheimer’s.

What’s great is that Denny is and always has been a bigger-than-life character who says and does outrageous things, is and was a shameless but rather harmless womanizer, and while he’s irritating and embarrassing, he’s brillant as a lawyer, and endearing.

Sounds like many people I know who also have Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is the great equalizer. I was recently talking to a support group, and one woman’s husband had been a construction worker all his life, and another woman’s husband was a lawyer and taught at Yale. Both had Alzheimer’s, and the women sat next to each other sharing comfort and support. It didn’t matter “who” they were or what they did. On that day, what mattered was a strength, love, and committment their family members gave that kept them going.

Alzheimer’s may alter a person’s personality, but the true sorrow comes when it obliterates it.

This usually happens toward the end stage of this disease, in stage six or seven, in years three to eight, depending on the person’s age and other complications.

As frustrating, scary, and utterly exhausting Alzheimer’s is, the real sorrow comes when your loved one is truly lost–lost to movement, thought, and emotion. Then, you long for the cantankerous days, the fights, the chaos because that’s when they were ironically, alive.

Denny Crane is played flawlessly by William Shatner, and his Alzheimer’s was not addressed at first. You simply knew what he said or did was…off. I have to admit, I thought of it, but I have experience. He’s young, in his sixties. Less than 10% of the people who get Alzheimer’s get it that young, and the numbers increase with age. Those above 85 years old have a 50% chance.

Denny’s quirkiness covered his dementia.

Are you blaming quirkiness, fussiness, meanness instead of looking at an underlying problem/issue?

Then, Denny was diagnosed, and they had several episodes of dealing with this as a law office, as co-workers, as lovers, and as friends. Last week’s episode dealt with Shirley Schmidt’s  father (she’s played by Candice Bergen) who was hospitalized and sufferiing with the last stages of this horrendous disease.

Shirley asked for a morphine drip. That’s usually considered palliative care and is used by regularly by hospitals and hospice and is reserved for diseases such as cancer that usually have a lot of pain. Alzheimer’s isn’t known for its physical pain. The nurses and doctors knew her reasoning.

Morphine drips are also used to allow a person to die. The dosage is increased, and the person simply drifts out. It’s considered humane for someone who is suffering.

The doctor’s refused. I’m not surprised. Candice got a court order. She had to tell Denny he couldn’t argue the case. His best friend, Alan Shore, played by James Spader argued the case.

Is physical pain the only kind of pain there is? Is it any less ethical to give morpheme to a person with Alzheimer’s who can no longer eat, communicate, or swallow on their own?

 Alan became quite empassioned. He couldn’t help it. He related it to Denny, to his best friend, and in many ways, you could see he was grieving what will come. What would he do if it was Denny? At the end of the closing, he told the court that his best friend had early stage Alzheimer’s, and that he had already vowed that no matter how hard it would be, he would find a way for his friend to leave this world with dignity.

They won the case. Shirley’s father was allowed to pass quietly and peacefully with his daughter by his side.

The last scene of Boston Legal always takes place on a penthouse patio overlooking the city. Denny and      are smoking cigars and drinking scotch and pondering life. Two best friends who may eventually become caregiver and care receiver.

Denny tells Alan that he heard his closing arguement, and then, like a couple of ten year-olds, he asks if his best friend would like to spend the night.


I’m not trying to get into the ethical debate of euthanasia, mercy killing, or anything else you want to call it.

What I wish to say is that Alzheimer’s is no longer a disease that’s mentioned in whispers.

It’s rippling ( or ripping) into our homes, our communities, our movies with such recent hits as Oscar nominated Away From Her, and now it’s making television.

What Boston Legal is doing right is that they’re not in a hurry with the storyline and so far, they haven’t written off this complex and entertainig character. 

They had 9.29 million viewers last week.

They’re showing the progression of Alzheimer’s to 9.29 million viewers.

This may not be their only agenda, but they’re a messanger. all the same. 

They’re portraying a character you already love, and love to hate, and now, after years of this crazy, quirky, shock-talking guy you care about whether you want to or not, and he hapens to have Alzheimer’s.

He’s your Uncle Joe, and this hits you in the gut. If he can get it…

As Alzheimer’s increases, I hope the media follows producer’s David E. Kelley’s lead and creates intelligent, vibrant discussions iand storylines in which Alzheimer’s is a part of–something we can learn, talk about, laugh about..and even cry.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Family Advisor at www.caring.com

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon and in most bookstores



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