Monday, February 25, 2013

Movies Depicting Alzheimer's Disease

Photo by Simon Shek. 
[Updated September 14, 2019 to add What They Had (2018.)]

Alzheimer's Disease radically interferes with a person's life. Scientists and health care professionals have done much to gather information and to offer support.

Books about Dementia

Hollywood has responded as well.  Filmmakers have already portrayed Alzheimer's Disease or other causes for dementia* in a number of film.

[*See this post about the medical experts' terminology change favoring Neurocognitive Disorder over dementia.]

Here are summaries and links to trailers for some of the films I've found with a list of the others at the end of this post.

Note that some of the films actually depict vascular dementia or dementia due to Parkinson's Disease, but some of the behaviors and symptoms are similar, so the film depictions may help family members process their feelings nonetheless.

Most of the films below are feature films and not documentaries.  I'm trying to emphasize the contribution that artists make to better responding to the challenges and opportunities presented by dementia.  Nevertheless, documentaries also require a view from the humanities more than from the sciences, so I have a few in the mix.

I found nearly all of these films on Netflix.

In post-production:  Supernova, starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci, directed by Harry MacQueen. Tucci's character, Tusker, has a diagnosis of early onset dementia.

ETA: Visit this page for links to a dozen plus documentaries about dementia.

What They Had (2018). Hilary Swank stars as a woman in midlife who questions her role as daughter, sister, wife & mother during a visit to her parents to address her mother's wandering due to dementia. The film explores complex family dynamics between parents and two adult children.  Full Review with trailer

Mr. Holmes (2015).  Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes as a man who lived beyond the pages of the stories.  Set in 1947, the film finds the detective retired and reviewing his last case from 30 years prior. Watch him use every trick for improving his failing memory and every device for uncovering clues.  Can this world-famous detective revise his legacy in time to transmit it to the rising generation? Full Review.
Still Alice (2015). Based on the novel of the same name, Still Alice shows a university professor and her family adjusting to her diagnosis and clinical symptoms of early onset Alzheimer's Disease.  The theme of identity through work threatening identity through relationships is strong.  Trailer.  Goodreads review of the book.

Dying of the Light (2014). Nicolas Cage stars as Evan Lake, a CIA agent who receives a diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD).  He has an old score to settle, but the angry outburst of FTD cost him his job. He goes rogue and vows to do his best to bring a foe to justice--despite increasing problems with his memory.

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (2014). A documentary that depicts Campbell's life with Alzheimer's Disease (AD) from the time of his diagnosis through his farewell tour.  The docu shows his family and entourage showing him a lot of support while interspersing footage of his life and career in music, film and television.  Several musicians comment on his talent and explain how AD has affected their family, too. Full Review.

 Alive Inside (2014).  This documentary shows footage of persons with dementia responding well to music. However, this work is contexualized by interviews with Dan Cohen, founder of Music and Memory as well as interviews with caregivers, health care providers, dementia advocates and scientists.   Trailer.  Full Review.

Still Mine (2013). James Cromwell stars as a man in his 80s who is focused on building an appropriate home for his wife of 63 years (played by Genevieve Bujold).  She is experiencing memory problems that grow more severe.  He not only has to battle his aging body but the local building inspector, his opinionated neighbor and his well-meaning but patronizing adult children. Trailer.

Robot & Frank (2012)Retired jewel thief Frank (played by Frank Langella) lives by himself and is having a few memory issues. His son brings him an electronic personal assistant--a robot.  Soon Frank figures out a way to have the robot help him return to his old ways--but not without complications. Trailer.

Wrinkles (2012).  This animated film shows newcomer Emilio (voiced by Martin Sheen in the English version) learning how to adapt to life in a multi-level care center by his more acclimated roommate Miguel (voiced by George Coe).  Both find it challenging to preserve their autonomy in the situation, and both try to figure out how to respond to Emilio's advancing Alzheimer's Disease.  Trailer.

Fred Won't Move Out (2012). A short film starring Elliot Gould about two adult children trying to convince their aging parents to leave their home in order to move into assisted living.  Based on the director's experience with his own parents and filmed in his parents'  home. Trailer

I do not list Amour (2012) with these films.  Yes, the film depicts caregiving challenges. But I excluded it because the wife had a series of strokes that resulted in mobility problems and aphasia. The film doesn't depict or discuss memory problems.  (And, I loathed the film, so I admit that I am eager to exclude it.) I did, however, write a post that was solely a review of Amour, which you can find here.

Finding Jenua (2011). A young woman, trying to forget her past, meets an older woman who is trying to remember hers.  What starts as a relationship of opportunity ends up finding greater depth. A local young man also shows interest in Jenua.   A short film at only 70 minutes. Trailer.

A Separation (2011).  This film from Iran doesn't use Alzheimer's as the central conflict, but it plays a significant role. A couple is separating and considering a divorce. The husband's father has Alzheimer's and requires a caregiver. The adult son hires a woman caregiver, setting of a series of conflicts that grow more and more complex as the film progresses. Trailer.

Iron Lady (2011).  This biopic of Margaret Thatcher's political life is framed by her experience with vascular dementia (brought on by a series of strokes) in her final years.  Thatcher (played by Meryl Streep) reminisces about her past through conversations with her beloved late husband Denis (played by Jim Broadbent).  Trailer.

All Together (2011). A French film featuring an ensemble cast of seasoned actors (including American actresses Jane Fonda and Geraldine Chaplin).  When health and memory problems plague a few of the members, they decide to live together--then complexities emerge.  Trailer
Poetry (2010). Winner of Best Screenplay at the Cannes for its year, this film from S. Korea dwells very little on the character's new diagnosis of Alzheimer's. The conflict focuses more on the misdeeds of her grandson. However, she has compounding limitations when trying to marshal resources in response. I have a feeling that the diagnosis contributed to the film's ending, but it's only implied. Trailer.
Barney's Version (2010).   Only about the last 30 minutes of this 134 minute film depicts the main character living with dementia.  The bulk of the movie is a life review of  a Jewish Canadian television producer who has many flaws but somehow remains lovable. Trailer.

The Alzheimer's Project (2009). HBO aired a series of episodes about Alzheimer's Disease, which are available for streaming or for viewing on a 3 DVD set. The episodes include footage of several family members as they address a loved one's trajectory through AD. Trailer.

Lovely, Still (2008).  Artist Robert Malone (played by Martin Landau) meets a lovely woman his age named Mary (played by Ellen Burstyn)  For the first half of the film, you watch him stumble through asking her on some dates and meeting her family. As the film progresses, you learn that Alzheimer's Disease threatens the relationship and causes chaos for them both.  Trailer.

Diminished Capacity (2008). Matthew Broderick stars as Cooper, a young newspaper editor who recently suffered a concussion at the hands of a co-worker. He's still having trouble regaining his memory when his mother asks him to come home from Chicago to Southern Illinois to help manage his Alzheimer's disease-stricken uncle, played by Alan Alda.  Trailer.

The Savages (2007). Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as siblings Wendy and Jon who reconnect with their father when he starts having serious memory problems. Jon quickly concludes that they can't care for him themselves, but Wendy is ambivalent. They film focuses on the adult children's response with very little screen time for the father.  Trailer.

Away from Her (2006).  Starring Julie Christie, Gordon Pinset and Olympia Dukakis, Away from Her shows how isolating Alzheimer's Disease can be for the caregiving spouse.  In early stages of the disease, the person with the diagnosis usually struggles much with anxiety and depression. In late stage, it's the spouse who struggles more to relate to a person who no longer remembers them.  Trailer

Aurora Borealis (2005). Donald Sutherland plays a supporting role as a grandfather with Parkinson's Disease and a growing case of dementia.  His increased dependency presents challenges for his wife, his grandson but primarily for himself as he struggles with depression and suicidal ideation. The film's point of view is the nephew's. Trailer .

The Notebook (2004). The frame-tale of this film shows a mature woman in an assisted-living center receiving a visitor who tells her stories from decades prior. The bulk of the film consists of flashbacks about a young couple in their teens/twenties.  But the ending brings Alzheimer's to the foreground, but only for a few minutes.  Trailer.

The Forgetting (2004). This PBS documentary is based on David Shank's 1999 book of the same name.  The television program contains interviews of three families about the impact of Alzheimer's Disease on the person affected as well as the family relationships.  David Hyde Pierce leads a town hall type discussion in the last 30 minutes of this 90 minute program.  The Forgetting is available for viewing online.

Memory of a Killer (2001). This Dutch-language film focuses more on the thrill of the chase than on dementia. Two police officers are trying to capture a hit man who is suffering from dementia. The criminal's memory problems only affect a couple of scenes, and it's not a realistic depiction of Alzheimer's Disease.  But it's fun to see the 57 year old actor playing the lead.  Trailer.

Iris (2001).  Based on the the life of British novelist Iris Murdock as described in  her husband John Bayley's memoir, An Elegy for Iris, the film spans decades, so it's not solely about the way Alzheimer's Disease changed their relationship.  Wonderful performances by Kate Winslet as the younger Iris, Judi Dench as the mature Iris, and Jim Broadbent as the mature John Bayley.  Trailer.
A Song for Martin (2001).  A Swedish film with subtitles about a composer and violinist who marry later in life.  A few years into their marriage, he is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. The film shows his progression from early stage through mid-stage to late stage dementia and the wive's struggle to keep her marriage vows as he moves further and further away from her. 
Firefly Dreams (2001). This Japanese coming-of-age film focuses on a 17-year-old girl whose parents' poor behavior rattles her, but she meets an older woman who is living with dementia. The teen is strengthened by forging a friendship with the mature woman and hearing her talk about her adventures in the 1940s.  Trailer
Age-Old Friends (1989). Hume Cronyn stars as John Cooper the anti-hero in this play-turned-film about a widower pushing back hard against the realities of aging. He lives in an assisted living center where he jokes around with his best friend Michael Aylott (Vincent Gardenia).  Over a series of a few weeks, marked by Sunday visits by his daughter, Cooper's tenacious grip on life starts to loosen.
Murder or Mercy (1987). Robert Young stars as Roswell Gilbert, a 75 year old man who shoots his wife Emily of 51 years because she is suffering from osteoporosis and Alzheimer's Disease. This film was released when Gilbert was still serving time. However, he ended up getting a pardon from the governor of Florida and then admitted that his act was wrong, even though during his trial, he insists there was no other way for him to help his ailing wife. 
Batteries Not Included (1987).  Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy play two of the five residents of a doomed apartment building.  Little alien robots come to their aid. Tandy plays a person with memory issues. However, her behavior has more to do about propelling the plot and creating tension / growth with other characters than it does about portraying dementia accurately.

Others films depicting dementia (often Alzheimer's Disease) that I have learned about but have not yet viewed:
  • Hamlet & Hutch (2014) starring Burt Reynolds
  • Angel's Perch (2013) feature film set in West Virginia 
  • The Genius of Marian (2013)  documentary 
  • Mai (2013) Hindi-language feature film 
  • "Pat XO" (2013) ESPN Nine for IX TV episode about a famous basketball coach
  • This Is Where We Live (2013)
  • Forget Me Not (2013) documentary 
  • Ashes (2012)
  • First Cousin Once Removed (2012) 
  • Terri (2011)
  • Happy Tears (2009)
  • Station of the Forgotten (2009)
  • U Me Aur Hum (2008) Hindi-language feature film 
  • Choke (2008)
  • Pandora's Box (2008) Turkish
  • Amencuer en el Sueno (2008) Spanish
  • Netherbeast Incorporated (2007) satire/fantasy
  • Pictures of Hollis Woods (2007)
  • Memories of Tomorrow (2006) Japanese 
  • Sundowning (2005)
  • Black (2005) Hindi-language feature film (AD minor w/some images of mistreatment)
  • Thanmathra (2005) Malayalam-language feature film (Tamil and India related culture)
  • I Did Not Kill Gandhi (2005) Hindi-language feature film  
  • A Moment to Remember (2004)
  • Quick Brown Fox (2004) documentary
  • A Time To Remember (2003)
  • Harvey Krumpet (2003) animated short
  • Son of the Bride (2001)
  • Safe House (2000)
  • Going Home (1999)
Thanks to Swapna Kishore (caregiver and blogger focusing on caregiving in India) for the blog post with information about Indian movies about dementia / Alzheimer's Disease.

Updated 10/13/15: I found a YouTube channel with a variety of videos (clips, trailers, tv programs, documentaries) on dementia.  I haven't viewed these yet, but I'm putting the link here to save it.

If you have others to recommend or if you want to suggest which of the films in the list above I should see next, please leave a comment.



  1. I’m giving you my Oscar pick for healthcare-related film of the year. Posted on February 18, 2013 by Lisa Suennen Aging in Place w/Robot & Frank, the Movie via @VentureValkyrie GeriJoy‏@GeriJoyTech GeriJoy compared similarly:

    1. I enjoyed Robot & Frank. Thanks for mentioning it!

  2. The Notebook is such a fan-favorite, that you might want to start there. Thank you for compiling the clips and list.

    1. Such tender moments between the mature couple in that film. Thanks for your recommendation.

  3. Amour (2012)
    127 min - Drama | Romance - 16 November 2012 (UK)
    7.8 Your rating: -/10 Ratings: 7.8/10 from 48,785 users Metascore: 94/100
    Reviews: 167 user | 402 critic | 44 from
    Georges and Anne are an octogenarian couple. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, also a musician, lives in Britain with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple's bond of love is severely tested.

    Director: Michael Haneke
    Writer: Michael Haneke (screenplay)
    Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert | See full cast and crew »

    1. I can't say that I "liked" Amour, but I can say that it's thought-provoking and initiates important conversations about caregiver burden and the ravages of stroke (which was the cause of the wive's aphasia and mobility problems). Sobering.

  4. Thanks for compiling this list, Karen! My husband and I produced the independent Alzheimer's drama Angel's Perch in 2013; it had a theatrical run last year and is currently available on iTunes, Amazon, and Vudu, and will be on Hulu this summer. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

    1. I will add it to the list. All my best to you.

  5. Great post! Seems like so many movies have done a fairly accurate job of depicting alzheimers and other diseases.

  6. The notebook! <3 i'm a big fan of that movie ., ever.

  7. Karen your blog is awesome and I am so happy to see the work you have been doing! Please keep it up. I look forward to following your work.
    With love from Canada <3

    1. Canada in the house! Thanks for visiting the blog. Enjoy the beauties of autumn afforded in your corner of the world.

  8. Wow, Karen, thank you for this list! It's comprehensive...yes, in "The Notebook," Gena Rowlands' character has dementia...

  9. What a comprehensive list!. I have an addition, an indie film that actually depicts everyday couples facing Alzheimer's. The film is "The Sum Total of Our Memory ( I like this film, available on the website, because it features people already affected with ALZ. The filmmaker, Barbara Klutinis made this film after meeting these couples in an ALZ support group in San Francisco. Her husband has ALZ. Hear what actual people have to say about this disease.

  10. Memento is an interesting film. Not Alzheimer's but memory loss.
    Having viewed it years ago, it seems a poignant portrait of a person struggling with a loss of memory. Even though it's actually an intellectual suspense thriller.

  11. Great connection! I've seen Momento, but I didn't think through the shared themes. I love psychological thrillers, and I like films that explore issues of cognition (like Awakenings). Very thought provoking comment. KDA

  12. Help..I saw a movie on dvd where a man with alzheimers/dementia, and I forgot the name of it. A man has driven his car into his garage door.He doesn't remember his wife,except for a second near the end. His wife has to sneak in the house to replace his meds. Does anyone know this movie?

    1. Spoiler alert: The one your describing is "Lovely Still" (2008), listed above, but I don't describe it in detail because I'm avoiding spoilers. The director has the viewers take the man's viewpoint where the relationships are unclear to him (and hence to us) until that brief moment of recognition.

    2. Thank you,thank you,thank you! I just found this site again last week. (I forgot to make a note of it) I requested the movie from the Library and :) it was the one I have been looking for over 2 yrs. I just finished watching it. The only parts I could remember were the ones I had mentioned in 2016, and of course that I loved it. I'm writing this site in a journal and hope that if any other good movies come to mind or are will list them here. I don't have alzheimers but my short term memory... Thank you again

  13. What is the movie in which the aging wife wanders off because of dementia and the aging husband keeps trying to find her? The husband becomes so distraught that the house becomes very cluttered and dirty, and is even visited by a social worker. I've seen it but don't remember the title or any more details. It's similar to Lovely Still but more pronounced and it's the wife with dementia.

    1. That might be _Away from Her_, but I haven't seen it for a while. The wife is the one with AD in that one, and she does get lost, but I don't have a clear memory of the social worker visit (since I haven't seen it since it first came out in 2006). Maybe it's time for me to watch that one again!

    2. I watched the trailer for Away From Her, and that's not the one I'm looking for, but it does look good.

  14. There's a Marathi (one of the many languages in India) film called "astu" ( so be it) that I recently saw. Worth watching. Of course with subtitles.

  15. Perhaps you can help me find a film, or perhaps just a TV "one-off" program. I haven't found it in the list of films. At or near the beginning, an elderly man is in his home that is messy and untended, and now his wife is missing. He goes out and looks all over for her. I can't recall the rest. Is this familiar to anyone, please?

  16. After living this life for so long I just can't make myself watch these kinds of movies. IT's to painful. (Rena)

    1. Rena: I can imagine that this would be traumatizing. I watched the majority of these before I had two relatives diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment, which converts to dementia at a high rate (I think 3 out of 5 after the MCI diagnosis advance to greater cognitive issues.) But it's hard for people to research prior to a diagnosis as a way to prepare. But maybe others who support YOU can watch these as a way for them to get a glimpse of the day-to-day challenges. HUGS to you, Rena!