June 13, 2017

Pop culture’s take on dementia: the good, the bad and the useful

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Still from Still Alice. Photo: Killer Films.

Pop culture’s take on dementia: the good, the bad and the useful

With offerings like Still AliceThe Iron LadyBlack Mirror and even Wolverine-headed superhero flick Logan, more and more movies and TV shows are shining a spotlight on living with dementia, albeit with varying degrees of success and accuracy.
Still from The Iron Lady. Photo: Pathé
And an expert on the topic has said exploring the characters and themes within popular culture might help to teach aged care staff about the lived experience of dementia.
Research associate and RN Rose Capp, from Flinders University and Vasey RSL Care, presented on the topic at the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency’s 2017 Better Practice conference.
With an increasingly diverse population of aged care workers, using pop culture as a reference point in education can cut through, Capp said. “If you use a film like Still Alice or perhaps a TV series like Packed to the Rafters, it’s something that a lot of people might be familiar with and I think it can convey the experience of someone with dementia in a way that written material or some form of online learning may not be able to.”
Aged Care Insite spoke with Capp about the movies that are true to the lived experience of dementia and those that miss the mark, as well as the ways staff may benefit from discussions about the characters they showcase.

New DVDs in the library dealing dementia and carers 

email nsw.library@alzheimers.org.au to borrow resources bfn Michelle 

Still Alice 

Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. A Harvard professor, she has a successful husband and three grown children. When she begins to grow forgetful, she dismisses it for as long as she can, but when she gets lost in her own neighbourhood she knows that something has gone terribly wrong. She finds herself in the rapidly downward spiral of Alzheimer's Disease. She is fifty years old. Suddenly she has no classes to teach, no new research to conduct, no invited lectures to give. Ever again. Unable to work, read and, increasingly, take care of herself, Alice struggles to find meaning and purpose in her everyday life as her concept of self gradually slips away. But Alice is a remarkable woman, and her family, yoked by history and DNA and love, discover more about her and about each other, in their quest to keep the Alice they know for as long as possible. Losing her yesterdays, her short-term memory hanging on by a couple of frayed threads, she is living in the moment, living for each day. But she is still Alice.

The iron lady [DVD]
A surprising and intimate portrait of Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. One of the 20th century's most famous and influential women, Thatcher came from nowhere to smash through barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male-dominated world.

Last cab to Darwin

Rex is a loner, and when he's told he doesn't have long to live, he embarks on an epic drive through the Australian outback from Broken Hill to Darwin to die on his own terms; but his journey reveals to him that before you can end your life, you have to live it, and to live it, you've got to share it.

The lady in the van

At the complicated heart of The Lady in the Van lies a great mystery. How could anyone, no matter how saintly, allow a homeless woman to spend 15 years living in a battered and unsanitary old van parked in his suburban London driveway, surrounded by a smelly cordon of plastic bags?

Miss Shepherd  is not a woman to reward kindly impulses and conspicuous acts of charity. She is cantankerous, bossy, manipulative, dirty enough to be a health hazard, and more than a bit mad. Nonetheless, she's canny enough to guess Bennett is the Camden Town resident most likely to put up with her. Admittedly, it's occupation by increment. For a long time, she parks in the street in front of his house. But it's a risky existence and Bennett is sometimes to forced to step in and protect her from passing hooligans. Then the council orders she move on and, addicted by now to the verbal duels that make up their daily dealings, he lets her slide into the driveway.
in the film there is Bennett the writer, anchored to his desk, and Bennett the doer, who lives through the experiences his counterpart will write about. And they continually argue – about Bennett the doer's timidity, the smallness of his life and his guilt over his mother.

Now her dementia is forcing him to admit her to a nursing home and somehow her fate is linked in his mind to that of Miss Shepherd.

This film by Michael Haneke explores death, ageing and the fear of loss. Anne and George (Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant) are a couple in their 80s who are enjoying their retirement, but that changes when, after an operation following a stroke, Anne is left wheelchair-bound and paralysed. Although she expresses her wish to die, even going so far as to make an attempt at taking her own life, George tries to remind her of the beauty and worth of life itself and the love that they share for each other. The feature won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and received BAFTAs for Best Film Not in the English Language and Best Leading Actress (Riva).

Driving Miss Daisy
In 1948, Mrs. Daisy, a 72-year-old wealthy, white, Jewish, widowed, retired school teacher, lives alone.
When Miss Daisy wrecks her car, her son, Boolie, hires Hoke Colburn, an African American chauffeur. Miss Daisy at first refuses to let anyone else drive her, but gradually gives in.
As Miss Daisy and Hoke spend time together, she gains appreciation for his many skills. After the house keeper   dies in 1962, rather than hire a new maid, Miss Daisy decides to care for her own house and have Hoke do the cooking and the driving.
The film explores racism against black people, which affects Hoke at that time. The film also touches on anti-semitism in the South. After her synagogue is bombed, Miss Daisy realizes that she is also a victim of prejudice (religious). But American society is undergoing radical changes, and Miss Daisy attends a dinner at which Dr. Martin Luther King gives a speech. …
Hoke arrives at the house one morning in 1971 to find Miss Daisy agitated and showing signs of dementia. Hoke calms her down. Boolie arranges for Miss Daisy to enter a retirement home. In 1973, Hoke, now 85, retires. Boolie and Hoke drive to the retirement home to visit Miss Daisy, now 97. As Hoke feeds her pumpkin pie, the image fades, with a car driving away in the distance.

*this is a great example of caring for parents that weren't great parents and also demonstrates great communication !
(see the book Taking care of parents who didn't take care of you : making peace with aging parents)
This is a story about hope. Hope for a different future, hope to improve the relationship between a father and son, hope to right old wrongs, hope that life can get better rather than harder.
Although it would have been simple to paint many of the characters as people worthy of pity and derision, instead you are shown that everyone is complex, simple, nice, nasty.
Nebraska excels in that it shows us different perspectives of each family member’s experience of Woody’s possible or probable dementia and leaves us to draw our own conclusions. The humour is dark, but there are frequent moments of undeniable levity. It’s cheeky and unapologetic. And it feels real. Which makes it special.
Watch this if:
• You like stories about complicated, imperfect people and their relationships
• You’d like to see a different story about dementia – maybe.
Don’t watch this if:
• You don’t like swearing
• You prefer your stories a little less up close and personal.

Still mine
 This is an intimate portrait of Frank, a man in his late eighties who finds himself caring for his wife of 61 years. Whilst no formal diagnosis is ever made, it is apparent that Irene has dementia and requires more support to continue to live at home. Facing the realities of their changing circumstances, Frank decides to build a dwelling more suitable than their long-term family home and is thrust into the contemporary world of permits, plans, building codes and the consequences of not complying with these restrictions.
Whilst taking on more tasks within the home, to compensate for Irene’s changing abilities, Frank also contends with the concerns of his seven children and their preference to have Irene, or possibly both Frank and Irene, getting professional care or support. Still Mine is ultimately a story about a relationship between husband and wife and their staunch determination to remain together and care for one another. At times, this means other family members are excluded and disregarded. Yet no one doubts their devotion to one another. It is a story of empowerment and acceptance in very stressful circumstances. Whilst their situation bends them, it does not break them and Still Mine is, among other things, a story of triumph.

Iris - Based on the book Elegy for Iris by John Bayley, this movie tells the true story of English novelist Iris Murdoch's descent into Alzheimer's disease and the unconditional love of Bayley, her partner of 40 years. Jim Broadbent won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Bayley in his later years; Judi Dench and Kate Winslet received both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, for their portrayal of Murdoch in her older and younger years.

The Savages - Jon and Wendy Savage are two siblings who have spent their adult years trying to recover from their abusive father, Lenny. Suddenly, a call comes in that Lenny's girlfriend has died and he cannot care for himself. Lenny suffers from dementia and her family dumps Lenny on his children. Despite the fact Jon and Wendy have not spoken to Lenny for twenty years and he is even more loathsome than ever, the Savage siblings feel obliged to take care of him. Now together, brother and sister must come to terms with the new and painful responsibilities with their father. The siblings are forced to face the struggle with their own personal demons.

Age Old Friends - John Cooper is in a retirement home. There are strict rules for the residents, but he refuses to fall into passivity. He flirts constantly with Nurse Wilson and spends time with his best buddy Michael Aylott, who's slowly drifting into dementia. The movie portrays the fight for independence and dignity in old age.

fireflyFirefly dreams, 2004

A Japanese sub-titled film about a troubled teenage girl who forges an unlikely friendship with an older person with dementia, becoming her carer and companion. This coming of age story focuses on 17 year old Naomi, sent to spend the summer holidays with her aunt in a small Japanese village whilst her parents navigate their separation and increasing inability to cope with Naomi’s behaviour. Initially, Naomi is stifled by the slower pace and physical demands of working with her aunt’s family in the hotel they run. She misses the city and is frustrated by her cousin, Yumi. Naomi goes to visit Mrs Koide, whom she knows from her childhood and at first is baffled by the inconsistencies in her elderly relative’s behaviour. As the summer passes, Naomi grows closer to Mrs Koide and her aunt’s family and whilst sometimes puzzled by Mrs Koide’s abrupt changes of topic, she tolerates and supports Mrs Koide’s needs.
Dementia is not overtly referred to in this film and the carer role that Naomi occupies is quite lightweight – focused on companionship rather than the day-to-day requirements of caring. The representation of dementia in this film focuses on some fairly mild forgetfulness, the person with dementia revisiting and re-enacting key past life experiences and some hospitalisation scenes.
In this film, the person with dementia dies and the implication is that her death was directly linked to dementia.

finding-nemo-dvdFinding Nemo, 

Although not immediately a dementia film, in Finding Nemo the character of Dory exhibits dementia-like symptoms which may help a younger child understand and experience dementia in a film.
This film, about a fish called Marlin looking for his lost son, Nemo, with the help of an often-forgetful and distracted fish called Dory. Dementia is not directly referred to in the film. Instead, Dory describes her condition as ‘short term memory loss that runs in the family’. As a result, the short term memory issues that can be experienced as part of dementia are front-and-centre, however the film also showcases Dory as a real person, not a caricature and someone who is able to contribute in her own right to her friend’s predicament. It shows some of the challenges of dementia, where some very routine procedural activities remain perfectly intact whilst other newer memories are tenuous and readily forgotten.
Finding Nemo also deals with Dory’s own anxiety, frustration and sometimes sadness with the limitations of her short term memory issues.
Overall, for younger children this could be a good film as a discussion piece to expand on a child’s experience of dementia and perhaps through Dory, their feelings about dementia.

Angel's Perch [DVD]
When his grandmother Polly is found wandering outside one morning, Jack, a successful architect, must travel back to his tiny hometown in the mountains of West Virginia to deal with her worsening Alzheimer's. But what was intended to be a quick, under-the-radar trip becomes complicated when no nursing home will take Polly. Torn between the career opportunity of a lifetime, caring for his last living relative and running from his own painful memories, Jack's carefully constructed life begins to unravel. As the town prepares to honor Polly's life by crowning her the "Queen of Cass" at the local festival, Jack struggles to hide his secret from them all. But when a childhood friend forces it out of him, Jack must choose between standing still or facing the pain of his past, so that he can finally move on with his life. Set almost entirely in the small, historic logging town of Cass, WV, Angel's Perch examines the delicate relationship between past and present, memory and loss.

One special night [DVD]

Romantic drama starring Julie Andrews and James Garner.  The story opens we find these two individuals, Robert and Catherine living and working in the same part of Montreal without knowing each other. Just as the Christmas season is getting underway Robert becomes stranded at the hospital after visiting his wife who is suffering from Alzheimers, due to a sudden heavy blizzard. hospital worker Catherine impulsively offers him a lift home in her car and to say the pair immediately have a clash of wills is an understatement as they disagree on everything to do with life and people however the pair face an even worse dilemma when Catherine's car slides off the road and the pair become lost. 

Song for Martin - Sven Wollter and Viveka Seldahl -- married in real life -- play married couple Martin and Barbara in this Swedish movie with English subtitles. Martin is a conductor and composer; Barbara, a violinist. They meet and marry in middle-age, but soon after, they find out that Martin has Alzheimer's disease. This moving story is considered one of the most realistic depictions of caregiving on film.

Noel -  A group of disparate characters look for understanding and compassion in the midst of a lonely holiday season in this comedy drama. Rose (Susan Sarandon) is a middle-aged divorcée whose mother is in the hospital with an advanced case of Alzheimer's disease; while Rose wants one more chance to tell her mother that she loves her, the woman doesn't even know who she is anymore. Mike (Paul Walker) is a police officer who has become the obsessive focus of an elderly waiter, Artie (Alan Arkin), who is convinced Mike is the reincarnation of his late wife. Meanwhile, Mike is engaged to marry the beautiful Nina (Penélope Cruz), but he's so consumed with jealousy and suspicion that she's not sure if she can go through with the wedding. And Jules (Marcus Thomas) is a street hustler who has only one fond memory of Christmas -- ending up in an emergency room, where the staff was holding a party. Jules wants to relive the experience, and is even willing to injure himself to do so. 

Getting on. Series 1 and 2

"A pitch-black hospital comedy emerging from the more of the mundanity, bureaucracy and absurdity of health care with warmth, wit and laughter"
Ward B4 is a backwater of an NHS hospital – a depository for dying and discombobulated geriatric women.

The program shows in a humorous way the difficulties in putting the patient first, it looks at issues such as aged care, homelessness and clients who do not speak English.

Kim Wilde, played by Jo Brand, is a return-to-work nurse who must adapt to the difficulties the modern NHS throws at her, with C. diff, form-filling, and political correctness. 

She is the staff member most empathetic to the concerns of patients and their families, which often brings her into conflict her colleagues, who are more concerned with sticking to the rules. 

Dr Pippa Moore, played by Vicki Pepperdine, is the "tough but fair" Care of The Elderly Consultant. She is uptight, self-centered, and lacking in "people skills", often being discourteous to her colleagues, her medical students, and even the patients. She, however, remains oblivious to the offence she causes, believing that people are impressed by her professionalism.

About Schmidt [DVD]
Warren Schmidt is about the taste the not-so-sweet slice of life. When he retired, he and his wife, Helen, had big plans - but an unexpected twist changes everything. Now, all of Schmidt's attention is focused on his daughter's upcoming wedding to a loser waterbed salesman. From meeting the groom's hippie parents to sponsoring a Tanzanian foster child, Schmidt embarks on a search for answers, only to discover that life is full of trick questions.

In 2011, music legend Glen Campbell set out on an unprecedented tour across America. He thought it would last 5 weeks; instead it went for 151 spectacular sold out shows over a triumphant year and a half. What made this tour extraordinary was that Glen had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He was told to hang up his guitar and prepare for the inevitable. Instead, Glen and his wife went public with his diagnosis and announced that he and his family would set out on a 'Goodbye Tour.' The film documents this extraordinary journey as he and his family attempt to navigate the wildly unpredictable nature of Glen's progressing disease using love, laughter and music as their medicine of choice. Special appearances include Bruce Springsteen, The Edge, Paul McCartney, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Steve Martin and Chad Smith among many others.
In 2011, music legend Glen Campbell set out on an unprecedented tour across America. He thought it would last 5 weeks; instead it went for 151 spectacular sold out shows over a triumphant year and a half. What made this tour extraordinary was that Glen had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He was told to hang up his guitar and prepare for the inevitable. Instead, Glen and his wife went public with his diagnosis and announced that he and his family would set out on a 'Goodbye Tour.' The film documents this extraordinary journey as he and his family attempt to navigate the wildly unpredictable nature of Glen's progressing disease using love, laughter and music as their medicine of choice. Special appearances include Bruce Springsteen, The Edge, Paul McCartney, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Steve Martin and Chad Smith among many others.

Movie review: The Intouchables

This and other similar resources are available for loan to members of AANSW - if you would like to reserve them please email the Library on nsw.library@alzheimers.org.au
The Intouchables
The Intouchables is a 2011 French comedy-drama film directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano. It stars François Cluzet and Omar Sy, and is a deeply moving movie, filled with many tender but also humourous moments. It is truly one of the most unique and beautiful friendships I have seen in a movie, ensuring I laughed out loud many times, as well as bringing me to tears. It felt like watching two broken souls, brought together and healed with humanity, friendship and love.
From the perspective of someone who has been a family carer, seen family members in residential care, as well as living with dementia, it could teach support workers and personal carers more than most training videos I have ever seen about person centred care. I highly recommend it, and found it inspiring, rather taunting and very beautiful.
The following is an online review which says it better than I could: “Hollywood does scale like nobody else, leaving the competition gasping in its wake. France does intimacy, and brutality. Nothing is sacred. And rather than try to revive the New Wave or emulate Hollywood like most widely seen French films of late, “Intouchables” harnesses its core strengths – ease with intimacy, willingness to ridicule anything and brutal honesty – and delivers one of the funniest, most honest and touching films I have ever seen.
Sy is a failed robber, going through the motions and playing the stereotypical jobless émigré. Cluzet is a romantic and melancholy mind trapped in a useless body. The circumstances that bring them together are too funny to spoil here, but meet they do, and an awkward relationship quickly blossoms as they bring out the best in each other.
The film’s simplicity is delightfully misleading: the script is a masterpiece of comedy writing, and however good the rest of the cast is, the central duo is magical. Sy’s comic timing will have you in stitches, but it is his honesty and vulnerability that make you fall in love with the character. Cluzet isn’t your typical sad-sack, instead, much of the finest pleasures in the film consist in watching him use his keen mind to mess with the world around him (a subplot about an abstract painting really takes the biscuit, you’ll know it when you see it).
This is one of the most unique, beautiful and honest friendships ever committed to film. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry… a delightful celebration of everything in life that makes it worthwhile.” Like one of the online reviewers, also a film maker, I gave it 10/10.
Winner of 7 International Awards. See the trailer 

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