Where to Watch: CBS
Air date: Sunday, April 22, 7 p.m. ET; streaming on CBS
A poignant report on the television news magazine 60 Minutes, chronicling the 10-year story of a couple who have been affected by Alzheimer's disease, captures both their agony and their inspiring love after more than 50 years of marriage.
In a moving segment on Sunday's show, “For Better or for Worse,” CBS News chief medical correspondent Jon LaPook, M.D., presents a report based on his 10 years of interviews with former New York City cop Mike Daly and his wife, Carol, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 14 years ago and has been cared for by her husband ever since. Their story is a picture of the toll the disease takes on families.
When Carol Daly was diagnosed, fewer than 10 million Americans were caregivers for a relative or friend with Alzheimer’s, and now it’s over 16 million, according to the Alzheimer's Association. In 2010 there were more than 5 million Americans living with the illness, and that number could triple by 2050, LaPook has reported. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that that figure would cost the country $1.1 trillion a year. For caregivers such as Mike Daly, the cost is financial — Daly had to keep working at a library job into his 70s to pay for Carol’s care — and emotional, as is obvious when LaPook asks how the couple are doing during the interviews.
As Carol moves from the early days of Alzheimer's to today, it is painful to witness her decline. In 2008 she knew she was 65; two years later, she guessed that she was 80. In 2008, when LaPook showed her a photo of Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind, she smiled at his handsomeness. Interviewed three years later, Carol still had some memory of him (retaining her high opinion) but couldn’t recall his name. And today she can’t remember even her husband’s name.
Because we get a vivid sense of Carol’s personality and her bond with her husband, we can connect with the loss she and Mike are experiencing. The pressure on the Dalys is palpable. Though his own health is strained by the stress, Mike tells LaPook, “I can’t go in the hospital … what do I do with Carol?” When it’s suggested that a caregiver’s life was not what he signed up for, Mike says, “When we took our [vows], it was ‘for better or worse,’ so I did sign up for it.”
One part of their story gives a ray of hope. CBS News introduced the Dalys to social worker Dan Cohen’s innovative Music & Memory program, begun in 2008, which helps people with dementia find renewed meaning through personalized music playlists, delivered on iPods and other digital devices. The program is used in more than 4,500 places nationwide.
After Carol says with trembling lips, “I don’t want to be like this — I really don’t,” it is exhilarating to see her face light up the second she hears Little Peggy March's 1963 hit tune, “I Will Follow Him.” Significantly, she is able to match the meter, comprehend the melody and even remember some of the words, because such memories are more deeply lodged or widely distributed in the brain than, say, Clark Gable’s name. Neurological research has proved that music can help dementia patients. "Since the music we love is really tied to our emotional system, and our emotional system is still very much intact, that's what we're connecting and that's what still works," Cohen says on 60 Minutes.
Mike is moved by seeing some of the old Carol return as she grooves to the rousing tune about lovers who are each other's destiny. “Knowing that she hasn’t lost it all — it was like 'Wow!'”