Clive Evers, Director of knowledge management, Alzheimer’s Society
Stress of a family who have to place a parent in care
In The Savages we are presented with an intensely focused experience of Alzheimer’s disease in an American family, which has almost certainly experienced emotional and probably physical abuse from a now stricken father.
The sudden death of his common-law wife exposes the frailty of the father, who is left alone with a son, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and a daughter, played by Laura Linney. In one scene Linney is suddenly challenged with her father’s urgent toilet needs in a packed aircraft. She opts for him to go without braces, resulting in a full plane cabin seeing his continence pad with his trousers around his ankles.
As the brother and sister struggle to maintain their own lives and relationships they argue over how their father should be cared for and where. Both agree it isn’t going to be with either of them. Their guilt at placing him in care emerges in different ways. His daughter attempts to move her father into a more luxurious home, while her brother struggles with barely suppressed tears and sudden angry outbursts.
The film is a fair depiction of the heartbreak and stress that any family will experience in suddenly having to come to terms with Alzheimer’s disease in a parent. It depicts the frustration of coping with a parent who has lost their memory, no longer recognises people and has flashes of uncontrolled behaviour.
Perhaps most realistic is the way the film tackles issues, such as having to place a parent in care and finding the right nursing home. Relatives are forced to balance their own lives with that of the person they are trying to look after.
Unpaid carers save the UK economy £6bn a year. Understanding how they are affected by dementia is an essential part of understanding the condition itself.