Documentary shines light on new dementia therapy

by Hiroaki Matsuki

Kyodo

A TV producer is winning plaudits internationally for his documentary about an experimental study in the United States on elderly people with dementia that seeks to restore their identities and improve the quality of their final stages of life.

With his English-language film titled “Do You Know What My Name Is?” co-director Shigeru Ota, 39, presents the story of dementia patients whose conditions have improved remarkably thanks to a treatment developed by prominent neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima involving simple reading, writing and calculation exercises.

“I believe dementia can be overcome and wanted to convey to people those signs (of the disease becoming a curable one through the film),” Ota said in a recent interview.

In the 82-minute film that has been screened at theaters across the nation since early March, a 93-year-old woman named Evelyn who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago lives at the nursing home in Cleveland.

She has even forgotten how to write her own name and was unable to communicate with a care worker named John, always answering “No” to his question, “Do you know what my name is?”

But she undergoes a major change as a result of six-month brain exercises.

Ota, who hails from Fukushima Prefecture, joined Sendai Television Inc., a broadcasting firm based in Sendai, in 1998.

Since 2007, he has constantly reported on dementia, neuroscience and the learning therapy developed by Kawashima, a Tohoku University professor known for his book “Train Your Brain: 60 Days to a Better Brain,” which inspired Nintendo Co.’s smash hit brain training game series “Brain Age.”

To make the film, Ota repeatedly visited the nursing home, where the average age of the residents is 80.

It is rare for a producer of a local broadcasting station to make a film focusing on foreigners, according to experts in the film business. But Ota even co-directed the film.

“We first tried to sell the documentary as a TV program to overseas broadcasting companies, but realized that each country has a different TV culture,” he said. “We thought that it is quicker to create a film instead of a TV program in order to sell it in a global market.”

The film has won awards at several film festivals, including at the American Documentary Film Festival last April.

Ota said he can never forget being told by an official related to the U.S. Alzheimer’s Association that his film describes dementia properly and should be seen by young people thinking about becoming care workers.

“It has been 100 years since people started saying dementia cannot be cured, but things will be different for the next century,” Ota said.