General Hospital Tackles Alzheimer’s Disease, And Gets it Right

by Juliet Holt Klinger

I am a member of an exclusive club and, if you remember when Luke and Laura got married or know who Robert Scorpio is, you probably are, too. I admit it: I have watched ABC’s “General Hospital” for over 40 years now – it is my guilty pleasure. I know I am not alone; I have many friends and colleagues who are equally hooked. And while I no longer schedule my days around mythical Port Charles, thanks to my DVR and the ability to zoom through the actual soap commercials, I never miss an episode.

Over the years the show has tackled HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, rare blood disorders and, of course, the requisite random bouts of amnesia necessary for exciting plot lines. Port Charles, home to “General Hospital”, is also known for inhabitants who can, remarkably, return from the dead. But in the last few months, the series has embraced a topic closer to reality for many of us. Mike Corbin, the father of Sonny Corinthos (Port Charles’s loveable crime boss) has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Sonny and his extended family are caring for Mike at home in their mansion on Harbor View Road. I cringed when I first saw the glimpses of this storyline. Were they going to do it justice? Will this be a story only of decline or will they feature scenes of Mike doing well and living a good life with the diagnosis?

Although the storyline is still unfolding, I have to say that so far, so good. The writers have, in my opinion, created scenes that capture the real-life experience of many American families coping with Alzheimer’s. The scenes with Mike and his family have covered the shock of receiving the diagnosis, the disappointment over minimal options for treatment, and the increasing stress that 24/7 care partnering can have on a whole family system.

Parade Magazine recently interviewed head writer Shelly Altman, who said they are taking the storyline seriously because the disease affects an estimated 47 million people. Altman notes that they chose the disease because “everyone out there has been touched by Alzheimer’s.” While they aren’t working with a formal organization, they are researching the disease, its symptoms and how it affects families and caregivers, and I see the result as an accurate portrayal.

Even Maria Schriver, founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, made an appearance on FOX’s Good Day LA with the actors who play Mike (Max Gail) and his daughter-in-law Carly (Laura Wright), to discuss the impact of this topic on daytime TV. Maria applauds Laura’s portrayal of the adult daughter caregiver and thinks that the fans outpouring of support reflects the shows accuracy because adult daughter caregivers are dealing with the same stress.

I particularly like the role that the hospital social worker, Stella, is playing in helping Mike and his family understand the changes and progression of the disease, along with providing sage advice about planning for the future. I also appreciate the many scenes where Mike is continuing to remain involved and engaged in life and as a contributing member of his family. Weaving in this positive narrative about living with dementia is truly where Altman and her team get it right.

So in my opinion, a big round of applause is due to General Hospital and its team of writers for the accuracy of this storyline so far. Like many fans for which this has hit home, I will be glued to the coming episodes to see how the progression of the disease is handled. My hope is that they continue to tell this story with the dignity and respect they have shown it so far.

This piece originally appeared on Brookdale News’ website on June 18, 2018.

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