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Boston Legal, Alzheimer’s, and Dimebon

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I am a fan of the show Boston Legal. For years the show has alluded to the mild cognitive impairment of Denny Crane (William Shatner) by referring to it as "mad cow." Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a transition stage between the cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious problems caused by Alzheimer's disease. It now seems the show is beginning to address the issue of Alzheimer's directly. This week Denny was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Boston Legal is about a "wacky" group of attorneys who often take on real-life social issues when clients walk into their office ready to sue. In this case, Denny wants to get the experimental Alzheimer's drug Dimebon. According to the company that's currently developing the drug, Dimebon is "an orally-available, small molecule that has been shown to inhibit brain cell death in preclinical models relevant to Alzheimer’s disease." Dimebon is currently in a Phase 3 clinical trial. It is not legal to buy it for Alzheimer's disease because it is not approved by the FDA for this purpose. The show ended this week with the United States Supreme Court deciding to hear Denny's case. The issue? He wants to buy the drug — why can't he?

Dimebon, an available Russian antihistamine, has been on the market for 25 years. A research study found that Dimebon improved memory, thinking, and other cognitive measures over placebo in as little as 12 weeks, and the differences were maintained over six months to a year.

Boston Legal
is confronting an issue that is on the minds of many families facing the devastating effects of Alzheimer's. If the drug works in clinical trials, why shouldn't you be allowed to purchase the drug? Right now, the United States government will not allow this. However Denny, facing certain Alzheimer's, wants to buy the drug to help stave off Alzheimer's. It will be interesting to see how this plays out on the television show.

I want to congratulate Boston Legal, its writers, and actors for taking on the issue of Alzheimer's disease. An underlying message in the show is that no one is immune to Alzheimer's disease. Denny Crane is a wealthy, upper class partner at a successful law firm. Alzheimer's knows no social or economic boundaries. In his role as Denny, William Shatner shows that a person suffering from mild cognitive impairment or an early stage of Alzheimer's can function effectively. There is an important message here: Alzheimer's attacks long before the person shows obvious signs of losing their memory. Subtle behavioral changes often are the first signs of Alzheimer's and dementia. And a person can work, drive, and perform many tasks while suffering from an early stage of Alzheimer's. Denny wants Dimebon to slow the progression of the disease. In this sense he is fortunate because early detection is critical to any effective treatment of the disease. There is no cure for Alzheimer's.

It never occurred to me to try and get Dimebon for my mother, an Alzheimer's patient. The show made me think about this issue. I now ask myself, why can't we purchase the drug if we desire to do so? Alzheimer's is certain brain death so what are the risks? What are the potential benefits? If we decided that the potential benefits of taking a drug outweigh the obvious risks, why shouldn't we be allowed to decide for ourselves? The show will frame these issues. I am looking forward to see how they approach and define the issue before the Supreme Court.

The show airs on Mondays at 10 PM ET.

For more information, visit the website of the Alzheimer's Association.

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About Bob DeMarco

  • Bill D’Elia

    You are mistaken on the start time of the show. It airs at 9PM. It is a two hour series finale.

  • Thanks

  • Bob, William Shatner himself is very sensitive to the Alzheimers issues. If you are not a Star Trek fan, you may not know that James Doohan, who played Scotty died of Alzheimers several years ago. Although they were not close friends, (seems like all the co-stars have jealousy issues with Bill) it affected Bill very much, and caused him to question his life, his mortality, and how he spends his time now. He and Leonard Nimoy made a wonderful sit-down interview with each other called Mind Meld which you can buy a dvd of on Shatner’s website. I highly recommend it… made me cry.

    My own mother died from Parkinson’s Disease and spent the last several years with severe dementia. So I know how you feel and what you are going through. But I wanted you also to know that the Boston Legal thing is more than just the show. Shatner has a lot of input on that aspect of his character.


  • Jan…

    Thanks for taking the time to comment and for the insight.

    I will take another look at the Shatner website. Perhaps he will attack this issue in his new show.

    I am looking forward to the Monday night show. I am a big fan of Boston Legal and I especially enjoy the way they present and deal with social issues.

    Boston Legal is a courageous show. It is unfortunate they were unable to attract a bigger audience.


  • NB

    There you are wrong ..Boston Legal has always had good ratings. Drawing in a steady 8-11 million dedicated viewers every week. Even when those viewers had to go hunting for it. As ABC seemed to love playing handball with it-bouncing it from Day to day. All this with NO promotion.
    In fact this season it has been steadily stomping all over ABC’s highly touted ,expensively promoted entries…..

  • You’re welcome, Bob…and yes, that show has a HUGE following. Shatner won some kind of award for his part, and maybe several.

    He’s a great guy. He’s got an ego, and well should have. His talent and personality are immense. But he’s become very open with his fans and talks to us with videos and on his website. He’s cool as mess. 🙂

    If you could get him involved with the issue, it would be remarkable what he could do to help.


  • The Alzheimer’s Association has several online resources about the topic presented in these episodes at. Also, please consider using the widget.

  • jasper

    I believe a drug company has paid 200 million or so dollars to “develop” a drug whose patent ran out and whose R&D did not contribute to the discovery of the drugs effectiveness. Good ol’ capitalist corruption at work.