Many people are aware of dementia and Alzheimer’s, with both the internet and the media providing a certain amount of awareness on the topic. There is also an abundance of films about dementia and Alzheimer’s, which certainly helps people’s understanding of them. However, there is often confusion around what the diagnosis means and as such, a lack of understanding when it comes to symptoms, outcomes and associated struggles.
Motion pictures can often help to portray things clearly and communicate the experiences people have with certain illnesses. When we follow on someone’s journey through diagnosis and management, and get sucked into the character’s lives, it can often provide a new perspective.
While there is a plethora of information available to self-educate on the subject of both dementia and Alzheimer’s, it can be difficult to understand the differences between the two conditions. As the Alzheimer’s Society explains, dementia is caused by diseases which damage the brain by causing a loss of nerve cells. Alzheimer’s disease is one specific cause of dementia and it is the most common.
In the UK, 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 have dementia and there are currently around 850,000 people who have been diagnosed. The statistics show that by 2040, this will rise to 1.6 million people.
With the subject being such a prevalent issue and one that is and will continue to affect such a large percentage of the population, we highlight four moving films about dementia and Alzheimer’s. Each one conveys the challenges facing those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s and the significant effect this can have on both their own lives and the relationships around them. Let’s explore each film and its characters below.
- Still Alice
Based on a book of the same name, Still Alice is a heartfelt film, following the story of Alice Howland – played by Julianne Moore – and the ways in which Alzheimer’s can unravel your life and your identity quickly, and without notice.
Happily married at age 50 with three children, the film sees Alice as an acclaimed linguistics professor who suddenly starts to forget her words. Upon receiving the diagnosis of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, the film focuses on the struggles in which both Alice and her family face following on from the diagnosis. It can be a challenging film to watch, as it is both disconcerting and a heartbreaking insight into the disease.
Still Alice is one of the most popular films about Alzheimer’s and is an accurate depiction of how it feels to detach from the person you believed you once were. However, as you watch Alice grapple with the loss of her own identity, the film also offers an inspiring and hopeful take around the diseases.
As she states in the film, “Who can take us seriously when we are so far from who we once were? Our strange behaviour and fumbled sentences change others’ perceptions of us and our perceptions of ourselves. We become ridiculous, incapable, comic… but this is not who we are. This is our disease and like any disease, it has a cause, it has a progression, and it could have a cure.”
- Alive Inside
Of all the films about dementia and Alzheimer’s, the 2004 part-documentary film Alive Inside focuses on a different narrative. The ways in which music can be used as a tool to improve the quality of life in those living with the disease.
Working with the staff at Cobbler Hill Nursing Home in Brooklyn, the film follows social worker and nursing home volunteer, Dan Cohen, as he brings music to the isolated residents suffering from dementia. His aim is to ‘bring them alive before our very eyes’.
In doing so, Dan sets up personalised playlists to its long-term residents and it seems to flip a switch in the brain of some, igniting memories of days past. “The novel and creative use of iPods and MP3 players with personalised playlists proves to be an effective therapy for people with dementia who have lost their identity and connection with their loved ones.”
This is one of the most moving and uplifting films about dementia, including interviews with neurologist Oliver Sacks and fellow scientists exploring the effects of music on the human brain, and some of the strongest arguments centre around the featured dementia patients. One such example is a woman who professes not to remember the details about her life, but as soon as she listens to a couple of songs, it brings up memories within her and she is able to talk about certain events in her life from decades ago.
Winning the “Audience Award” at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, this incredibly moving film is a fascinating insight into the effects of music, particularly personalised songs when it comes to the memories and legacy of those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- Away From Her
An insight into intimate relationships and the effect diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s can and certainly do have on these, Away From her is a 2006 independent film centred around the marriage of a husband and wife – Fiona and Grant – living with the effects of Alzheimer’s.
Married for 44 years, the viewer quickly learns Fiona has Alzheimer’s disease, as we see a scene in which she places a frying pan into the refrigerator. Later, she heartbreakingly states, “I think I’m beginning to disappear”. After deciding to move into a care home – to avoid her husband viewing her demise so directly – Fiona forms a close attachment to another care home resident.
Ultimately, and as one of the most poignant films about Alzheimer’s, it addresses the painful aspects of losing a loved one to the disease as well as navigating the intense attachments formed within hopeful, long-lasting relationships. The film explores the ways in which “we are anchored by love and relationships, and how the unmooring that accompanies dementia – for example – the loss of shared memory affects not just those whose memories are lost, but also those whose memories remain intact or, at the very least, much more secure and stable.”
- The Savages
Directed by Tamra Jenkins. The Savages is a 2007 comedy-drama film that evokes an entire array of emotions, from sadness to humour, and ultimately acceptance and self-growth, in the wake of a dementia diagnosis. Focusing on the estranged brother and sister relationship of Jon and Wendy, the film looks at the relationship between the two characters and the struggles they face following on from their father’s dementia diagnosis and their subsequent caring responsibilities.
After learning about their father’s diagnosis, the film explores the struggles both Wendy and Jon face when dealing with the condition as well as the effect this has on their own lives and relationships within the family as a whole. Making for a moving watch, the film unites both characters and focuses on their emotional growth as they care for their father and try to navigate his condition.
The Savages explores the struggles placed upon not only the person living with the disease but the associated issues that can, and do, affect their loved ones in such an impactful way. Of all the films about Alzheimer’s and dementia, this film portrays a particularly heartfelt and tender insight into the issues surrounding the onset and progression of dementia.
- The Iron Lady
The Iron Lady looks at the life of Margaret Thatcher, with Meryl Streep playing the role of the imperious British Prime Minister. We see flashbacks of her time in government but flash forward to the present day where she is battling dementia. One particular scene where she appears distressed and confused when buying groceries from a shop really hits hard and sets the tone for the film.
There are poignant moments throughout the film that show how this illness can affect absolutely anyone, no matter how powerful they are or were in life.
- The Notebook
Well-known for being one of the most heartfelt and touching movies of the 2000s, the Notebook tells the story of husband-and-wife Noah and Allie. In the present day, Allie is in a nursing home because she has Alzheimer’s disease, and Noah is reading to her from his old notebook, which he kept up during their youth.
In the film, the younger pair are played by the charming Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, whose enduring love for one another makes the present-day situation that much more tragic. The Notebook captures the difficulty of couples dealing with this illness but inspires by showing the dedication of a person to their significant other.
Movies convey what it’s like to manage these conditions
As these movies all highlight in their own poignant ways, living with and caring for loved ones with dementia and Alzheimer’s can be a challenging and daunting time. Alongside the symptoms of memory loss and confusion, someone living with the disease may forget where they are, where things are placed within their own homes and also how things work.
This can often mean the introduction of necessary adjustments, such as kitchen and bathroom customisations within key areas of the home to ensure that essential care and support is put in place. This can help not only help those directly affected by dementia and Alzheimer’s, but also for those in a care-giving role.
As the disease can also affect mobility, particularly within its later stages, the implementation of Walk-in Baths and Walk-in Showers can help to offer safety and support as well as instilling some much-needed confidence for those affected. It’s changes like these that can make a world of difference and greatly enhance people’s day to day lives.