"Away From Her": A Caregiver's Response

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • "Away From Her" is a new movie about what happens to a loving relationship when Alzheimer's disease intervenes. The movie's Web site, offers the following synopsis:

    "Married for almost 50 years, Grant's (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona's (Julie Christie) commitment to each other appears unwavering. Their daily life is filled with tenderness and humor; yet this serenity is broken by Fiona's increasingly evident memory loss... When neither Fiona nor her husband can deny any longer that she is being consumed by Alzheimer's disease, the couple is forced to wrenchingly redefine the limits of their love and loyalty -- and face the complex, inevitable transition from lovers to strangers."
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    My friend Anna and I share the experience of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's; I am caring for my mother, and Anna was the primary caregiver for a neighbor who died of Alzheimer's disease last year. We decided to see "Away From Her" so we could discuss how the movie compares to our experiences with a loved one in decline due to the much-feared degenerative disease of the brain.

    Anna found "Away From Her" depressing. The movie's message was hitting a little too close to home for her. Anna, who is in her 50s, described experiencing some difficulties with her memory; the movie bumped up her stress level since Julie Christie’s character, who appears to be in her 60s when her slide into Alzheimer's begins, is relatively close to Anna’s age.

    As proof of her fading memory, Anna recounted how she distinctly remembered selecting some frozen meals at the grocery store and putting them in her cart. But, when Anna got home, the frozen meals were nowhere to be found. She couldn’t for the life of her remember what happened to the meals. Had she just left them somewhere? And if so, what did this mean about her memory? Luckily, Anna had a doctor’s appointment the next week so she could talk about her concerns with her primary care physician.

    This morning, Anna called to report back about what her doctor said. Anna said she told the doctor about the missing frozen meals and expressed her concern that there might be a larger problem. Anna’s doctor (a woman who is 47 years old) listened attentively and then kindly pointed out that she herself had walked out the door that morning wearing only one earring. With that comment by the doctor, Anna relaxed, realizing that the doctor’s explanation – the multi-tasking life that we all lead – was the major contributor to the memory loss concerning those frozen meals.

    The doctor also told Anna that if she was still worried about the memory loss, the doctor would prescribe a battery of tests that could gauge the actual status of her memory. Anna said at this point, she felt relieved about her memory’s status and isn’t planning on undergoing those tests. But she knows the option is there if she starts to worry again.

    These comments bring me back to some points that we’ve addressed on this Web site. Establish a good relationship with your doctor. Describe your concerns to him or her. Take good care of yourself. And treat yourself with understanding and tenderness when you can’t remember something (like where you left the frozen foods); your memory loss may be a result of something other than dementia.
Published On: July 05, 2007