Movie of the Week: Still Alice

Still Alice follows the story of Alice Howland, a renowned professor and mother of three. She is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer's shortly after her 50th birthday and the film shows the hardships that come along with the diagnosis.  The movie raises awareness for caregivers who care for Alzheimer's patients as we see her family struggle in this role and with her disease. It is a poignant story worth watching by any caregiver.

Movie of the Week: The Fundamentals of Caring

The fundamentals of caring follows the story of a retired writer looking for a new job after a tragedy. He takes a care giving course and is hired by an English woman to look after her son who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. It takes a while for the caregiver and patient to connect, but after they do they embark on a road trip across the US. Through their road trip they learn how to cope with the negatives and how to focus on the positive, it tells a great story about love, hope and friendship.

Caregiverlist Picks: Senior Care Movies Streaming on Netflix

If you read the Caregiverlist® Blog: Caring for the Caregiver with any frequency, you know I’m a movie fanatic. Over the years I’ve recapped quite a few movies that deal with Alzheimer’s and other memory loss diseases, aging, and even senior caregiver robots.

If you subscribe to movie streaming service Netflix, here’s your opportunity to catch some of those great movies and documentaries on the privacy of your own device. Here’s some of the titles you’ll find in December:

Alive Inside

This moving documentary shows the power of music on the mind. Social worker Dan Cohen uses music to reawaken memory in nursing-home patients afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

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Another documentary, this movie follows seven New York City women in their 80s and 90s who refuse to become invisible in a culture that values youth. Photographer and blogger Ari Seth Cohen has been documenting stylish seniors in NYC since 2008 and has now brought some of his most eccentric subjects to life in this film. Reviews are divided, however, between viewers who admire these ladies’ outrageousness and those who feel the aged should be a little more dignified.

Quartet

Dustin Hoffman directs this film about a trio of retired opera singers as they prepare for their annual gala concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. Maggie Smith is their estranged fourth arrives and refuses to participate. With Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins.

Robot & Frank

It’s nice when caregivers and care recipients share interests. Companion caregiver robots are already more fact than fiction, so the premise of this film is not so far out of the realm of reality. Set some time in the near future, elderly Frank’s son and daughter are concerned he can no longer live alone. Rather than place him in a nursing home, Frank’s son gets him a talking humanoid robot programmed to provide care. Lucky for Frank, a retired cat burglar, the robot’s talents extend beyond basic senior care. Be warned, however—some caregivers have found the ending a little bleak. With Frank Langella, James Mardsen, Liv Tyler.

Take some time out from watching holiday classics to enjoy some of these senior-related films. Do you have favorites that are not on this list?

Julianne Moore is Still Alice

It happens to everyone, I think. The missing keys, the lost word, that moment when you walk into a room and forget what you came in for. When it happens to me, I get a brief moment of fear that it might be something a little worse and a little more frightening than simple forgetfulness. At my age, I worry that it might be just a harbinger for more serious things to come.

Still Alice is a story that takes us into the world of a woman — a scholar, wife, and mother — for whom that fear becomes a reality when she’s diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Based on Lisa Genova's 2007 bestselling novel of the same name, it’s the story of a linguistics professor who struggles to hang on to her memories, and herself during her swift deterioration. And by all accounts, Julianne Moore's performance is incredible.

Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is a fairly rare form of dementia that strikes people younger than 65. As in the movie, it’s common for those with the disease to exhibit symptoms beginning in their 50s. Most early-onset Alzheimer’s is genetic, and although not backed by hard data, the perception is that early-onset Alzheimer’s progresses more quickly than Alzheimer’s disease experienced later in life.

The movie co-stars Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish as Alice’s three grown children who watch their brilliant mother fade away while learning they may inherit her disease. Alec Baldwin co-stars as her husband, and after the great chemistry they showed on 30 Rock, I can’t wait to see them together here in a more dramatic pairing.

Here’s a clip from the movie in which Julianne Moore’s Alice discusses the short but beautiful lifespan of butterflies with her family caregiver, daughter Lydia:

The movie, and especially Ms. Moore’s performance (The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg calls it “nuanced and heartbreaking,”) were such a hit at the Toronto International Film Festival that there’s been a lot of talk about this role finally garnering her an Oscar. She’s had four nominations but no wins to date.

If you live in New York or Los Angeles, you’ll be able to see the movie on December 5, 2014 (in time to be considered by the Academy). For the rest of the country, the film is set for U.S. wide-release on January 16, 2015.

I remember reading the Caregiverlist Alzheimer's Diary by Norm McNamara back when we published it in 2011. Mr. McNamara gave us a peek into what living with Alzheimer’s is like in that one-day entry. I imagine the heartrending research Julianne Moore must have gone through to prepare for her role. These point-of-view looks into the life of those afflicted with memory loss disease is as close as I want to get, but I think it’s so valuable for us to see and try to empathize with the millions of Alzheimer’s sufferers around the world.

Alive Inside: Music Triggers Memories

Every year, I look forward to fall movie season—comedies, crazy horror movies (looking at you, Tusk,) big blockbusters, and sweet, small romantic dramas—I don’t have a favorite genre. As long as its well written and well acted, I’m in.

I’m also a nut for music, and the two are combined with great effect in the documentary, Alive Inside. Great documentaries not only entertain, but by their very nature, teach us something we didn’t know before or gives us a deeper understanding of a subject. Documentary filmmakers are rarely in it for the money, so you know that telling their story is a labor of love.

Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett follows social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the organization Music & Memory, a nonprofit that uses music to trigger memory and emotion to those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. Winner of the Audience Award for U.S. Documentary at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, the film showed music’s capability of reawakening the mind and soul of the listener, restoring an individual’s sense of self, especially when that person is battling memory loss.

It’s been chronicled that those with Alzheimer’s and dementia feel emotion long after memory has faded. Alive Inside shows nursing home patients respond to the music they enjoyed in their youth.

Just as “Radar Love” takes me back to cruising the streets of Chicago in my first car (a 1970 Nova), Henry reacts to the big band music played through an iPod and headphones. The 94-year-old man suffers from dementia and initially seems cut off from the outside world. We watch as he listens. The transformation is immediate and profound. Henry sits up, sways to the music, and starts raving about how much he loves Cab Calloway. He responds to questions and suddenly he is full of energy and life.

The movie is full of those kind of examples. Mr. Rossato-Bennett spent three years watching and recording the effects of music therapy. At its best, the movie let’s us see the transformation of memory loss patients from isolated to reconnected—all through the power of music.

The documentary also contains interviews with experts including renowned neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, who discusses links between music and emotion and the strength of musical memories. Musician Bobby McFerrin (Don’t Worry, Be Happy) also weighs in on the power of music as a trigger of emotional memory.


Caregiverlist supports the family and professional caregiver and understands the challenges of caring for seniors with memory loss. We think music therapy is a great technique for connecting with those with Alzheimer's disease.

And if you are looking for a a little escapist fun in theaters this fall, Irma la Douce and Captain von Trapp (Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer) are living it up in Elsa & Fred, an American remake of a 2005 Spanish-Argentine film of the same name.

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