Tender Images Reveal Life Inside an Alzheimer's Ward

A photographer shines a light on the dark reality of living with Alzheimer’s.

While on a tour of a geriatric hospital in France, photographer Maja Daniels came across a locked door with portholes in it. Behind it, someone was trying to get her attention. When she asked, Daniels learned that the door led to a protective unit for the hospital’s Alzheimer’s patients, meant to keep them safe and to keep them from wandering off and getting lost.

“I was just struck by the image of that door,” says Daniels.

A resident’s room in the ward.
A resident’s room in the ward.
Photograph by Maja Daniels

That door opened the way for Daniels’ series “Into Oblivion,” a documentary project that exposed some of the many issues surrounding Alzheimer's patients while also highlighting society's generational disconnect from its elders. Shot over the course of a three-year period, “Into Oblivion” was the inaugural winner of the Bob and Diane Fund, a photographic grant that supports visual storytelling about Alzheimer’s and dementia.

While Daniels used the grant to help publish “Into Oblivion,” the series itself helped to effect small changes within the hospital where she shot the work. When Daniels showed the staff her photos, they were shocked by the images of people by the door.

“Sometimes the hardest things to see are the things that are closest to us,” Daniels says.

Shortly after, they covered the door with wallpaper to make it blend in and defer patients away from it.

“Even those smaller changes are really important,” Daniels says.

The Bob and Diane Fund was started by National Geographic Creative employee Gina Martin in honor of Martin’s mother, Diane, who died from Alzheimer's in 2011, and her father, Bob. The winning photographer receives a $5,000 grant to support his or her work.

Applications are being accepted until October 29, 2017.

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