Alzheimer’s Is No Laughing Matter

48730974.cachedVariety reports that Will Ferrell is set to produce and star in the upcoming film “Reagan”, already destined for the Hollywood Blacklist. The screenplay, written by Mike Rosilio, spoofs Ronald Reagan’s latter years of his presidency when he was showing signs of dementia. Already it’s causing an outcry and none louder than that of Reagan’s daughter. Bravo to Patti Davis for calling out this incredibly tasteless project:

Dear Mr. Ferrell,

I saw the news bulletin—as did everyone—that you intend to portray my father in the throes of Alzheimer’s for a comedy that you are also producing.

Perhaps you have managed to retain some ignorance about Alzheimer’s and other versions of dementia. Perhaps if you knew more, you would not find the subject humorous. Alzheimer’s doesn’t care if you are President of the United States or a dockworker. It steals what is most precious to a human being—memories, connections, the familiar landmarks of a lifetime that we all come to rely on to hold our place secure in this world and keep us linked to those we have come to know and love.

I watched as fear invaded my father’s eyes—this man who was never afraid of anything. I heard his voice tremble as he stood in the living room and said, “I don’t know where I am.”

I watched helplessly as he reached for memories, for words, that were suddenly out of reach and moving farther away. For ten long years he drifted—past the memories that marked his life, past all that was familiar…and mercifully, finally past the fear.

There was laughter in those years, but there was never humor.

Alzheimer’s is the ultimate pirate, pillaging a person’s life and leaving an empty landscape behind. It sweeps up entire families, forcing everyone to claw their way through overwhelming grief, confusion, helplessness, and anger.

Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either. Twice a week I run a support group called Beyond Alzheimer’s for caregivers and family members of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

I look into haunted eyes that remind me of my own when my father was ill. I listen to stories of helplessness and loss and am continually moved by the bravery of those who wake up every morning not knowing who their loved one will be that day, or what will be lost.

The only certainty with Alzheimer’s is that more will be lost and the disease will always win in the end.

Perhaps you would like to explain to them how this disease is suitable material for a comedy.

Patti Davis


Of course comedy can be funny, yet politically incorrect. Just take a look at the runaway hit “Springtime for Hitler” in the runaway hit “The Producers.” However, consider the insensitivity of the timing with “Reagan.” I seriously doubt that “The Producers” would ever have been brought to the big screen on the heels of World War II when the pain was still fresh in the public’s mind. As for the families of the holocaust victims, it will always be offensive.

In many respects, I’m in the throes of this new world wide scourge on mankind: Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s an assault on the brains of intelligent, vital people, taking their loved ones down with them and raging like an epidemic. The afflicted and the family both become casualties of the horrific illness  that not only drains one mentally but physically, emotionally and financially until there is nothing left. If it weren’t so slow to progress, it would be the perfect biological weapon to take out a country. And it will take out our country as we simply can’t afford to care for all of the victims. You wouldn’t make a comedy about colon cancer. Instead you would think “There by the grace of God go I” and it would seem like a very unpopular thing to do. Perhaps that’s the problem. If it hasn’t harmed their family yet, legislators, policy makers (and yes filmmakers) probably think they’ll dodge the bullet. So I join Patti Davis in asking Will Ferrell:  “What’s so funny about Alzheimer’s?”

That’s not to say there isn’t a sweet side to the profound sadness. I was one of the “lucky” caregiver’s who didn’t have to deal with hostility or anger in Mom. Her wonderful sense of humor intensified during early and midstage Alzheimer’s in which she entertained us despite the gravity of the situation. However, our chuckles were always from a place of sensitivity where we laughed with her, never at her. I thank God for those days as the memories keep me going through these tough times where Mom is bedridden and can no longer speak and I am housebound along with her.


Here’s Mom wearing a couture creation born out of one of her “stackings.” She actually took a millinery course when she studied fashion design in college so she saw potential in combining a safari hat and a colander. I think I’ve seen some collections on the runway during Fashion Week that were almost as edgy! Never once did I mock her headgear. Instead, we talked (and joked) about it so I could understand the beauty in it that she was seeing through her eyes. Humor and Alzheimer’s is a delicate issue. It’s one to be shared intimately among loved ones in a loving way. People with dementia have been stripped of so much — don’t take their dignity too.



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