Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s

  • By Laura Helft
  • Posted 04.07.16
  • NOVA

What's it like to have Alzheimer's disease? Journalist Greg O'Brien offers a glimpse into the mind of someone with this kind of dementia.

Running Time: 04:23


Greg O'Brien: “When I got the diagnosis, it was upsetting and I went into a pity party. I'm a writer, okay. I'm, I'm a journalist. So, I decided to go back to my muscle memory, which is a reporter, and I felt the responsibility to tell this story.”

Greg O'Brien: “I noticed early on I started experiencing a lot of the symptoms. And it scared the hell out of me. And I was in denial myself.”

Greg O'Brien: It's a complete loss of self. We all in life, I think at times, have to remake yourself. You know, someone loses a job, someone loses a wife, some other catastrophe. But when you lose your brain and you lose yourself, it's tragic beyond belief because it's very difficult to find yourself again.”

Greg O'Brien: “Alzheimer's is like a loose plug in a socket. And you're sitting next to a light and you're reading and the light starts to blink. And so you push the plug in. And then the light starts to blink some more and you push the plug in and it happens again. And now you're gettin' a little annoyed. Over time, the plug gets so loose, it falls out. You put it back in, it falls out. You put it back in. Pretty soon, the plug is so loose, it doesn't stay in the socket and the lights go dark.”

Greg O'Brien: “My brain used to be my best friend. When I saw what happened to my mother and my grandfather, I began to realize that my brain is no longer my best friend.”

Greg O'Brien: “My laptop and my iPhone, that's become my brain. I make notes to myself. And and I'll I'll periodically leave notes to myself in different places.”

Greg O'Brien: “There are times when I'll look at my inbox, and and I'll see scores of of emails, and I go, ‘Oh, my God, you know, it's Friday. I-- I need a little break. And, I open it up, and I realize that most of them are from me: reminders, reminders, reminders, reminders.”

Greg O'Brien: “There are times when I get confused and I reach for hand soap rather than the toothpaste. There was a time that I gargled with rubbing alcohol, and it doesn't have a clean, minty taste. And so, my doctor told me, which I do at times, and then I forget to label you know, the toothpaste, and the hand lotion.”

Greg O'Brien: “But every morning I find myself going like this, and then the brain says, ‘bad dog.’ And then I go over and get something else that I'm supposed to.”

Greg O'Brien: “Through the grace of of God and my parents I've inherited a good intellect, okay. It's what doctors call a cognitive reserve, which might be an extra fuel tank of of intellect.”

Greg O'Brien: “If I'm not moving forward, I'm drifting backwards and in Alzheimer's there is this urge to drift.”

Greg O'Brien: “In life, you need a purpose. And so every day I try to get up with a purpose. And anyone in Alzheimer's has to have a purpose.”

Greg O'Brien: “The day that I get up and I put my fingers on that keyboard and I don't know how to write anymore, that's the day I'm givin' up. And that's the day I'm gonna go quickly because I won't have a purpose anymore.”

Greg O'Brien: “I'm fighting for my family. And I'm fighting for me. And I want a couple more good years of writing. I, I see two or three more years, frankly.”



Original Footage from Can Alzheimer’s Be Stopped?
Written, Produced & Directed by
Sarah Holt
Laura Helft
William A. Anderson
Line Producer
Heather Forbes
Associate Producer
Laura Schebler Rammelsberg
Post Production Supervisor
Arjun Rao
Assistant Editors
Penny Hollis
Mike Quartulli
Color Correct and Audio Mix
Henninger Media Services
Editorial Advisors
Laura Bonetta
Dennis Liu
Music by
New West Studios, Inc.
Anton Sanko
© 2016 Tangled Bank Studios, LLC
All rights reserved


(main image: TK)
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2016

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