Movies featuring depictions of dementia

Forget memoryIn her book Forget Memory : Creating Better Lives for People with Dementia Anne Davis Basting looks at how we understand memory and the fear around loss of memory.  Basting shows that  the fear and dread of losing our memory make the experience of the  disease worse than it needs to be and emphasizes the importance  of activities that focus on the present to improve the lives of persons with  Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.   The book gives an  optimistic and innovative cultural critique of dementia care  and offers a vision for how we can change the way we think about and care for people  with memory loss.

In this book Anne Basting looks at how dementia is portrayed in mainstream movies and discusses how this shapes our attitudes.
I have re-blogged this post from and the following movies all feature depictions of dementia. They are also available for members to borrow from their Library. Apologies also for the formatting… I’ve given up now and just have to accept “it is what it is!!”
Iris movieIris – Based on the book Elegy for Iris by John Bayley, this movie tells the true story of English novelist Iris Murdoch’s descent into Alzheimer’s disease and the unconditional love of Bayley, her partner of 40 years. Jim Broadbent won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Bayley in his later years; Judi Dench and Kate Winslet received both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, for their portrayal of Murdoch in her older and younger years.

SavagesThe Savages – Jon and Wendy Savage are two siblings who have spent their adult years trying to recover from their abusive father, Lenny. Suddenly, a call comes in that Lenny’s girlfriend has died and he cannot care for himself. Lenny suffers from dementia and her family dumps Lenny on his children. Despite the fact Jon and Wendy have not spoken to Lenny for twenty 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. The siblings are forced to face the struggle with their own personal demons.



fireflyFirefly Dreams – This Japanese film with English subtitles won several international film festival awards. It tells the story of Naomi (Maho), a troubled teenager sent to the country for the summer to work for her aunt and uncle. She’s asked to care for an aging neighbor with Alzheimer’s disease; Naomi is initially unhappy about the arrangement, but soon connects with the woman in a transformative way.




age old friendsAge Old Friends – John Cooper is in a retirement home. 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.





noelNoel –  A group of disparate characters look for understanding and compassion in the midst of a lonely holiday season in this comedy drama. Rose (Susan Sarandon) is a middle-aged divorcée whose mother is in the hospital with an advanced case of Alzheimer’s disease; while Rose wants one more chance to tell her mother that she loves her, the woman doesn’t even know who she is anymore. Mike (Paul Walker) is a police officer who has become the obsessive focus of an elderly waiter, Artie (Alan Arkin), who is convinced Mike is the reincarnation of his late wife. Meanwhile, Mike is engaged to marry the beautiful Nina (Penélope Cruz), but he’s so consumed with jealousy and suspicion that she’s not sure if she can go through with the wedding. And Jules (Marcus Thomas) is a street hustler who has only one fond memory of Christmas — ending up in an emergency room, where the staff was holding a party. Jules wants to relive the experience, and is even willing to injure himself to do so.




one specialOne Special Night – Builder Robert (James Garner) is visiting his wife, who has Alzheimer’s Disease,  in a nursing home and is having problems getting a taxi home due to an intense snow storm. One of the doctors, Katherine (Julie Andrews) offers him a lift home however their car gets stuck and they have to spend the night in an empty cabin nearby. Over the course of the evening they  find a great source of comfort in each others company as they talk about their families and their own lives and especially their partners, in Robert’s case a terminally sick wife and in Catherine’s case her deceased but much missed husband.



awayfromherAway from Her – Fiona and Grant are an Ontario couple who have been married for over 40 years. During the twilight of their years, Grant is forced to face the fact that Fiona’s ‘forgetfulness’ actually is Alzheimer’s. After Fiona wanders away and is found, the decision is made for her to go into a nursing home. For the first time in their relationship, they are forced to undergo a separation since this is the nursing home ‘no-vistors, ‘ first 30 days policy of a patient’s stay. When Grant visits Fiona after the orientation period, he is devastated to find out that not only has she seemingly forgotten him, but she has transferred her affections to another man. As the distance between husband and wife grows, Grant must draw upon his love for Fiona to perform an act of self-sacrifice in order to ensure her happiness.



notebookThe Notebook – Based on Nicholas Sparks’ best-selling novel of the same name, The Notebook features James Garner as Noah, the loving husband of Allie (Gena Rowlands), who is in a nursing home due to Alzheimer’s disease. He attempts to rekindle her memories of their long history by reading to her from his notebook. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams play the couple in their younger years. Described as a true romance, the movie was directed by Nick Cassavetes, son of Gena Rowlands.





Song for Martin – Sven Wollter and Viveka Seldahl — married in real life — play married couple Martin and Barbara in this Swedish movie with English subtitles. Martin is a conductor and composer; Barbara, a violinist. They meet and marry in middle-age, but soon after, they find out that Martin has Alzheimer’s disease. This moving story is considered one of the most realistic depictions of caregiving on film.




finding-nemo-dvdFinding Nemo – The fretful Marlin and his young son Nemo become separated from each other in the Great Barrier Reef. Nemo, a clown fish, is unexpectedly taken from his home and thrust into a fish tank in a dentist’s office overlooking Sydney Harbor. Buoyed by the companionship of a friendly fish named Dory, who has short term memory loss, Marlin embarks on a dangerous trek and finds himself the unlikely hero. The movie also shows insight into forgetfulness, friendship and communication.




Getting-on-1Getting On Series 1 & 2 – A pitch-black hospital comedy emerging from the more of the mundanity, bureaucracy and absurdity of health care with warmth, wit and laughter”Ward B4 is a backwater of an NHS hospital – a depository for dying and discombobulated geriatric women. The program shows in a humorous way the difficulties in putting the patient first, it looks at issues such as aged care, homelessness and clients who do not speak English.  Kim Wilde, played by Jo Brand, is a return-to-work nurse who must adapt to the difficulties the modern NHS throws at her, with C. diff, form-filling, and political correctness.[4] She is the staff member most empathetic to the concerns of patients and their families, which often brings her into conflict her colleagues, who are more concerned with sticking to the rules.  Dr Pippa Moore, played by Vicki Pepperdine, is the “tough but fair” Care of The Elderly Consultant. She is uptight, self-centered, and lacking in “people skills”, often being discourteous to her colleagues, her medical students, and even the patients. She, however, remains oblivious to the offence she causes, believing that people are impressed by her professionalism.



aurora borAurora borealis – 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. It was considered a well-crafted independent film that was released under the radar.




8 thoughts on “Movies featuring depictions of dementia

  1. another great one – “I am Sam” with Dakota Fanning & Sean Penn & Michelle Pfiefer depicting adult with developmental disabilities.


  2. I’d like to add another movie to this list. “Driving Miss Daisy,” with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, is an excellent movie overall. It deals with an elderly woman in the American South, whose son hires her a driver when she reaches the point where she can no longer drive herself. Over the years, they develop a kind of friendship amid the backdrop of the struggle for civil rights and other social changes of the times. Eventually, she must move into a residential facility, but her friendship with her former driver continues.


    • You’re right. There seem to be a lot of movies dealing with mental illness (“A Beautiful Mind”), and developmental disabilities (“Rain Man”). But I had to really search my memories to come up with a movie about a dementia-causing illness in younger people. I did finally come up with “Awakenings,” a nice movie that was made several years ago about a group of people with a form of progressive encephalitis. Robert DeNiro plays a man who developed the disease in childhood, and who was placed in a hospital when his mother could no longer care for him. Good movie, with a rare serious performance from Robin Williams.


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