Sunday, December 28, 2014

Do You Know What My Name Is?

This is an odd little film. Financed by some Japanese guys and initially released a couple of years ago, it floats around getting not much attention.

Which is kind of odd, since it shows people recovering (at least partially) from dementia and Alzheimer's.

The document follows John Roderman over a period of six months where he works in an old folks home and interviews people with memory problems. He asks them the titular question, and when they say they don't, he gives them his name tag and lets them read it. Then he talks over some stuff with them, and asks them his name again after about 5 minutes at which point they've forgotten it.

Over the course of six months, they're given a treatment which is too simple to be believed: They read a passage or two aloud, and then they do some simple math, also while saying what they're doing. This, the theory goes, draws blood into particular areas of the brain. (They explain this to the patients, too.)

If this sounds familiar to you, you may have encountered something like "Brain Age" for the Nintendo DS. Ryuta Kawashima, the creator of "Brain Age", is behind this treatment. You may have also heard (I have) that there's no scientific evidence to support these theories.

Of course, I'm familiar with valid therapies being pronounced unscientific, so it was interesting to me to see the six month period, at the end of which, the patients are very much improved indeed. This (still) isn't scientific proof, but it's very damn convincing.

One of the patients was able to remember John's name, but all of them we saw reconnected with their families. One was able to knit again. They all became more social and more like their former selves (as described).

Of course there's not much money to be made in such a simple thing. John goes from a minor role as an interviewer to doing the test administration ("helpers", I think they're called, but I don't remember very well—oh, no!) and, frankly, I think I could both rig up the exercise and administer it just from watching the movie.

So, you can see why there's not much interest. An easy, cheap cure for dementia or Alzheimer's? Who needs it!

I thought it was interesting that it would work, though. If it can be fixed by exercise, which it seems to be, but then is further boosted by the people doing the things they did before they got sick, that suggests to me that there must be some sort of trigger event that starts the cycle going downward. It could be something really simple, too, like a spike in blood sugar or an ordinary illness.

It suggests that certain rituals people do may be prophylactic against this sort memory loss, too.

This is amazingly good news and important if true as they say.

Three-point breakdown:

1. The topic is obviously important. People aren't getting less susceptible to these conditions. Or any younger.

2. The style is very simple. It has a home movie feel, despite having two directors. Roderman—I kind of wanted to punch him at first. But then it really became clear that he's got a kind of Mr. Rogers thing going: He's not talking down to old people, he's just very gentle and sweet-natured.

3. Slant? Well, obviously this presents this technique as working. Can I guarantee it's not edited to elide failures, or present the results as more dramatic than they are? I cannot. I'd like to hope not.

This film has no entry in IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes or Box Office Mojo.

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