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Movies can teach other about dementia
Ed Youngblood
Special to the Chronicle

Movies, including their replay on television and other devices, are not just entertaining, but one of the leading learning tools in our culture. And despite the fact that Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have become one of the leading medical challenges of our time, much ignorance and misunderstanding of these diseases remains.

Below are motion pictures, including documentaries, produced during the past 25 years that deal with dementia and are regarded as instructive and reasonably accurate by experts in the field.

“Age Old Friends” (1989) — Directed by Allan Kroeker; starring Aaron Alexander, Frummie Blatt, and Hume Cronyn. John Cooper (Hume Cronyn) is in a retirement home where 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. IMDB rating 7.7.

“Alive Inside” (2014 Documentary) — Directed by Michael RossatoBennett; starring Dan Cohen, Louise
Dueno, Neil Hardie. Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from dementia. IMDB rating 8.2.

“Aurora Borealis” (2006) — Directed by James Burke; starring Joshua Jackson, Donald Sutherland, Louise Fletcher, Julia Lewis. Donald Sutherland and Louise Fletcher steal the show in this movie about relationships and difficult choices. Sutherland plays a grandfather with dementia who requires more care than his wife (Fletcher) can handle. They enlist the help of a home health aide (Juliette Lewis) and their grandson (Joshua Jackson), who forge a friendship as Sutherland’s character — who insists he can see the Northern Lights from his window — becomes increasingly impaired. No rating.

“Away from Her” (2006) — Directed by Sarah Polley; starring Julie Christie, Michael Murphy, Gordon Pinsent. A man coping with the institutionalization of his wife because of Alzheimer’s faces an epiphany when she transfers her affections to another man, Aubrey, a wheelchair-bound mute who is a patient at the nursing home. IMDB rating 7.6.

“Fire Fly Dreams” (2001) — Directed by John Williams; starring Maho Ukai, Tsutomu Niwa, Etsuko Kiamata. Naomi (Mako Ukai) is a spoiled teenager from Ngoya, Japan, whose parents send her off to the country for the summer to work at her aunt’s inn. After being asked to care for an aging relative with Alzheimer’s disease, Naomi develops an extraordinary friendship with the older woman that changes her perspective on life. IMDB rating 7.2.

“I’ll Be Me” (2014 Documentary) — At the age of 76, country music icon Glen Campbell is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which coincides with the release of his album Ghost on the Canvas. His wife, Kim Campbell, and he decide the best way to handle the situation is to go public with the medical diagnosis so that the public will not be surprised by whatever may happen at any given public appearance. As tour performances are presented, the question whether the tour was the appropriate thing to do is answered. These performances are interspersed with commentaries by friends, colleagues and fellow musicians, who talk about the influence Campbell has had on their lives. No rating.

“Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch” (2001) — Directed by Richard Eyre; starring Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet. This is the true story of the lifelong romance between novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, from their student days through her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. IMDB rating 7.1.

“The Judge” (2014) — Directed by David Dobkin; starring Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga. Big-city lawyer Hank Palmer (Downey) returns to his childhood home where his father (Duvall), the town judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth, and along the way, reconnects with his estranged family. During development of his defense, it is learned that the Judge’s portrayal of the facts may be affected by dementia. IMDB rating 7.4.

“The Notebook” (2004) — Directed by Nick Cassavetes; starring Gena Rowlands, James Garner, Rachael McAdams. In a nursing home, resident Duke reads a romance story for an old woman who has dementia about a love story from the 1930s. IMDB rating 7.9.

“The Savages” (2007) — Directed by Tamara Jenkins; starring Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco. Jon (Hoffman) and Wendy(Linney) Savage are two siblings who have spent their adult years trying to recover from the abuse of their father, Lenny Savage (Bosco). Suddenly, a call comes in that his girlfriend has died, he cannot care for himself with his dementia and her family is dumping him on his children. Despite the fact Jon and Wendy have not spoken to Lenny for 20 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 now affecting their lives even as they struggle with their own personal demons Lenny helped create. IMDB rating 7.2.

“A Song for Martin” (2001) — Directed by Bille August; starring Sven Wollter, Viveka Seldahl, Reine Brynolfsson. Famous composer Martin meets concertmaster Barbara at one of his performances, and
the two fall in love. After divorcing their spouses, Martin and Barbara marry and begin a happy life together. Five years later, as the couple is working on a new opera, Martin is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As Martin’s condition worsens and his personality changes, the couple strain to hold on to the
love that once brought them together. IMDB rating 6.9.

“Still Alice” (2014) — Directed by Richard Glazer, Wash Westmoreland; starring Julia Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart. A linguistics professor and her family find their bonds tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. IMDB rating 7.5.

“There is a Bridge” (2007 Documentary) — Directed by Ted Kay; starring Susan Anderson, Josh Dorman, Naomi Feil. Documentary focusing on the importance of continued communication with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. No rating.

The primary source for the information above is the website Internet Movie Data Base ( Ratings are based on a 10-point scale.
Posted on 17 Mar 2017

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