"Away From Her": A Caregiver's Response (Part 2)

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Two weeks after our initial plans to watch and discuss the new movie "Away From Her," which follows the blows that Alzheimer's disease delivers to a loving marriage, my friend Anna and I finally had a chance to catch up. In my last SharePost I wrote about how, after seeing the movie, Anna was worried about her own periodic memory loss; luckily, a quick chat with her doctor eased her anxiousness, and we were able to continue our conversation.


    In discussing "Away From Her" and our roles as Alzheimer's caregivers, we covered many intriguing topics and angles. I'm going to take the liberty to focus my next few SharePosts on the issues that we discussed based on this movie. Please feel free to chime in with comments at any point.

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    One of our first points of discussion was whether we would recommend "Away From Her" to someone who has early onset Alzheimer's, their family members, and other caregivers. We wholeheartedly said, "Yes!" Anna noted that at first she didn't want to take her husband to see the movie (she chose to attend the show alone). But in retrospect, she wishes Bob had come with her because it would provide fodder for some critical conversations related to aging and health.

    These are some of the questions that couples should consider: How do they want to handle an illness such as Alzheimer's if either spouse is diagnosed? Should the ailing partner remain at home or move to an assisted living center? Or should both of them move to a retirement community, if and when one is diagnosed? Anna said she would like to have that conversation with her husband now before a medical "crisis" forces them into reacting in ways that may not reflect what they both want.

    Anna and I agreed that the movie honestly depicted the issues related to Alzheimer's disease. It is truer to what happens in real-life caregiving and Alzheimer's than the 2004 movie, "The Notebook," which Anna described as a romantic story that didn't really focus on the issues of dementia. "Away From Her" takes what could be described as a "softer" focus on the disease because the tale never progresses further than the early stages of dementia, unlike the 2001 movie, "Iris," which allows the viewer to follow the progression from Dame Iris Murdoch's diagnosis until her death.

    We agreed that Julie Christie, who plays the main character in "Away from Her," did an excellent job of capturing the challenges and struggles that are associated with having the disease. "She has aged so gracefully and captures the story's dichotomy: her great beauty versus this ugly disease," Anna said. And we thought the various actors' actions and reactions throughout the various situation made the movie very believable. We were stunned that Sarah Polley, at the age of 27, was able to direct such a thoughtful, believable story, which was based on Alice Munro's short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain."

    At the theater where I saw "Away From Her," I was fascinated that two of the movie trailers that were promoted - "Evening" and "The Savages" - deal with end-of-life issues and caregiving issues. Neither Anna nor I remember having seen multiple movies about caregiving issues related to dementia and/or the elderly being promoted at the same time. Perhaps these production decisions are due to the audience members from the Baby Boomer generation who now are dealing with their parents' health issues.

  • Although at times an uncomfortable to watch, these movies are a good way to begin to think through the various issues related to caregiving and health. Anna and I both hope that the movie community produces more of these movies, because they provide an insightful way to promote thought and dialogue about what we as individuals, couples, and society want and need concerning dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

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Published On: July 09, 2007