Fact or Fiction: The Notebook

Patient Expert

Some friends recommended that I watch the movie, The Notebook. I have not read the book that the movie was based on, so I went into the story with no knowledge of the story. The movie is a sweet account of a life-long love affair that is recounted through Noah's reading of a notebook to Ally. Both Noah and Ally are living in a retirement community, but as Noah reads the notebook, there are flashbacks to two young people who fall deeply in love. Noah's reading keeps Ally entranced through the day.

The story itself is a very sweet one, but as I watched how the characters were displayed, I found that I was deeply dismayed by Ally. You see, Ally has dementia, which is the reason that she cannot remember that the story Noah is reading is actually hers. Yet as depicted in the movie, Ally only shows minimal symptoms of the dementia. She is perfectly coiffed and verbally eloquent. The only problem is that she can't remember her husband (Noah), her adult children and grandchildren, and her life's story. The only way she remembers is that she gets a recounting of her story through her husband's daily reading.

The problem based on what I've seen in my visits with various residents who have dementia at the nursing home where Mom lives is that verbal language is one of the areas that first shows the ravages of this disease. The person can't think of a word or misuses a word in describing things. Yet in this movie, Ally makes no such missteps verbally.

Furthermore, people with dementia tend to forget the day-to-day experiences, but remember their history. The other day I visited my mom, and she was signing a song from her childhood (and one that I have never heard before).

Also, at one point, Ally is taken and placed in a locked unit. The movie depicts a secure unit that looks more like a sanitarium for the mentally ill then a specific area in a retirement community. There are no homey touches and no social opportunities for the people who live in the movie's locked unit. It's like being placed in purgatory, and is a place that I'm sure her husband and children would never let her reside.

The movie industry's success is based on "make believe." That's not a bad thing, but I guess I'd prefer a little more realistic version. So if you are going to watch a movie for a sweet story line and an idealistic view of dementia, then pick up The Notebook. But if you want a true story of a lifetime love story and a realistic depiction of what dementia entails (and how it impacts the spouse), rent the movie Iris about Dame Iris Murdoch, the British writer. It's your choice - fiction or a true love story.

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