Mother Study – a heartbreaking dementia cost estimate.

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As you watch this movie, Shakespeare’s line about “second childishness and mere forgetfulness” – the last of the seven ages of man that Jacques somberly proclaims in As You Like It – will come back to you.

But that doesn’t do justice to a very moving and insightful documentary about dementia, dementia care, the globalized marketplace of compassion, and what society sees as women’s work, by director Kristof Bilsen and executive producer Kirsten Johnson (Dick Johnson Is Dead).

In 2019, my colleague Charlie Phillips was in awe of this film, and I couldn’t agree more.

It is a deeply moving image of what it means to be a skilled caregiver; and what it means for both the patient and the caregiver to be isolated by fate, genetics, and market forces from their families.’ Films must be frank about tragedy’: the director who brings dementia to the screenContinue readingPomm is a nurse in Chang Mai at a specialist care facility for people with dementia The patients come from German-speaking countries and a Swiss man, Martin Woodtli, who is married to a Thai woman, owns the facility. His economic model is what you would call the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” The cost to European families in their home countries is around half of what it would be. Pomm earns well, but she has to live in the hospital, a four-hour drive away from her children, who are cared for by their elderly mother, and also from her partner, from whom she is separated. The film opens with the tragic sorrow of Pomm over the loss of an elderly patient named Elisabeth, whose family is traveling to attend her Buddhist funeral (no thought of repatriation seems to exist); then This is Maya from Switzerland, who at the frighteningly early age of 57 has dementia and whose husband and grown daughters can no longer cope. The family of Maya is seen to demonstrate matter-of-factly that it is not a matter of insensitivity, but of selflessly forsaking the instinct to be close to their mother in order to position her where she can be best cared for.

Is that what they really think? Who’s really going to know? But it is clear enough of their own hidden sorrow, which they handle with a spirited emphasis on cheerfulness and positivity. And so begins the long, challenging business of acclimatizing the bewildered Maya with a landscape so different from Switzerland to her sudden, surreal move to Thailand.

She is initially told she is on “vacation,” like Elisabeth, which can assist with the transition or simply contribute to the uncertainty.

Maya can speak to her husband via Skype – evidently in the office of Martin – but she obviously does not understand what is happening. Pomm becomes Maya’s mother, but still, with the intimacy and gentleness of her treatment, and poignantly, a daughter+ of sorts.

At the same time, she becomes alienated from her own mother and children, a dynamic that plays out with Maya’s extended family in a have/have-not parallel. Pomm can see what we can see: that in a second-generation care loop, she is trapped. Her mother has to look after her children while she earns a living, and when her daughters are old enough, they can take on a similar job in Thailand (or maybe in the Middle East as a domestic worker) while Pomm looks after her children.

And it’s going on.

And who, as she develops dementia, will take care of Pomm? This is a movie that, in a frighteningly contemporary sense created by capitalism, asks us tough questions. Thailand may seem like an antechamber to the afterlife for those with dementia and their families, perhaps even the afterlife itself.

But it’s nothing too exotic for the Thais, and it’s jarring to see Pomm break into tears at the end, as if recognizing all the sorrow in the air that none of the adults are allowed to remember. On January 11, Mother will be released in digital formats.

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