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Books and Movies: Senior Care

Tiffany Smith
Jan. 18, 2009

Our favorite books and movies with senior care themes.

The Care.com Editorial Team has compiled a list of our favorite books and movies with a senior care theme. You'll find a wide range of both fiction and nonfiction books and movies to share with the kids, as well as some just for grown-ups. Refer to the list when you're stuck with nothing to do on a rainy day, or to enrich your family's daily selection of nighttime, naptime or fun reading or viewing. Hopefully you'll find a few new books and movies that will become family favorites!

Books for families

Title: Cherry Pies and Lullabies

  • Author: Lynn Reiser
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reading type: Family reading
  • Reader age group: Ages 4 to 8
  • Publisher: Greenwillow
  • Date of publication: 1998
  • Review: The book uses cherry pie baking as a way of telling the stories of three generations of women. The adage "the more things change, the more they stay the same" is depicted in warm and rewarding fashion. This multigenerational book should appeal to a multigenerational readership.

Title: Nana Upstairs Nana Downstairs

  • Author: Tomie dePaola
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reading type: Family reading
  • Reader age group: Ages 4 to 8
  • Publisher: Putnam
  • Date of publication: 2000
  • Review: Tommy's Sunday visits to his grandmother and great-grandmother change dramatically when the latter passes away. This lovely, understated book is not just about the grieving process; it is about the strong relationships that can (and should) form between grandkids and grandparents.

Title: The Grandma Mix-Up

  • Author: Emily Arnold Mccully
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reading type: Family reading
  • Reader age group: Ages 4-8
  • Publisher: HarperTrophy
  • Date of publication: 1991
  • Review: Two grandmothers with very different temperaments show up to babysit Pip. Pip helps both grandmas find a middle-ground between their two personalities. Most families will be able to sympathize with Pip's plight as it is depicted in this silly, wonderful book.

Title: The Hundred Penny Box

  • Author: Sharon Bell Mathis
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reading type: Family reading
  • Reader age group: Ages 4 to 8
  • Publisher: Puffin
  • Date of publication: 2006
  • Review: Aunt Dew maintains a "hundred penny box" as a way of keeping track of her memories. She can take any penny from her box, look at the year, and tell a story about that year. Michael's mother wants to throw the box out, but Michael resists her wishes. Another great book about the bond between a child and an elderly relative.

Books for grown-ups

Title: Caring For Your Parents: The Complete AARP Guide

  • Author: Hugh Delehanty and Elinor Ginzler
  • Genre: Non-fiction
  • Reading type: Advice book
  • Reader age group: Adults
  • Publisher: AARP
  • Date of publication: 2005
  • Review: Extremely practical and helpful advice book with lots of tips on how to care for your aging parents. Topics covered range from communicating, how to advocate on health and legal care issues, determining financial status, finding caregivers and appropriate living situations.

Title: Memento Mori

  • Author: Muriel Spark
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reading type: Adult reading
  • Reader age group: Adults
  • Publisher: Puffin
  • Date of publication: 1959
  • Review: Morality and mortality are explored in this novel about a group of elderly British friends and the mysterious caller who begins to tweak their consciences in similar ways. Not really a mystery or a thriller, but more of a wry meditation on aging.

Title: The Forgetting: Alzheimer's: Portrait of an Epidemic

  • Author: David Shenk
  • Genre: Non-fiction
  • Reading type:
  • Reader age group: Adult
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Date of Publication: 2001
  • Review: Analysis of causes and biology of Alzheimer's, as well as interview with patients and their families, providing a moving portrait of what it is like to live with the disease, for patients and their loved ones.

Title: The Story of My Father: A Memoir

  • Author: Sue Miller
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Reading type:
  • Reader age group: Adult
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Date of Publication: 2004
  • Review: Fiction writer Sue Miller here chronicles the story of her father's descent into Alzheimer's, her own caretaking issues, and her attempt to treat him with as much dignity and humanity as possible.

Title: What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World

  • Author: William H. Thomas, M.D.
  • Genre: Non-fiction
  • Reading type: Philosophy
  • Reader age group: Adult
  • Publisher: VanderWyk & Burnham
  • Date of Publication: 2004
  • Review: Book about process of aging, society's response to it, and how we should value our elders and learn from them.

Movies for grown-ups

Title: And Thou Shalt Honor

  • Genre: Documentary
  • Director: Harry Wiland and Dale Bell
  • Date of Release: 2002
  • Rating: None
  • Basic Plot: This one hour PBS national caregiving town hall meeting gets lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to address the heathcare issues surrounding elders.
  • Review: Informative special that deals with complexities of elders' health care issues, from prescription drugs to longterm care, and the changes in policies that are needed to meet the needs of the nation.

Title: 94 years and 1 Nursing Home Later

  • Genre: Documentary
  • Director: Laurel Greenberg
  • Date of Release: 1999
  • Rating: none
  • Basic plot: Told from the perspective of Belle's granddaughter, the film looks at the decision to put Belle, who had been a vital and loving center of the family, into a nursing home.
  • Review: This moving and thought-provoking film traces the evolution of Belle from caretaker parent to isolated elder. Through its close focus on how one family handles the issue of what to do with a 94-year-old grandmother, this remarkable documentary impels us all to think about our relationships with our loved ones, and about whether or not we are open to hearing and digesting what they are trying to tell us. It also explores the psychological reasons for each person's choices, and helps us understand how and why the situation unfolded as it did.

Title: About Schmidt

  • Genre: Comedy-drama
  • Director: Alexander Payne
  • Date of Release: Dec. 20, 2002
  • Rating: R
  • Basic Plot: After his wife dies, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) begins to examine his life for the first time.
  • Review: This is a heartbreaking film about a man who attains the age of 66 without ever learning much about himself. Then, his wife dies, and he is simultaneously forced to retire. These losses, combined with the marriage of his daughter, cause him to begin to wonder about the meaning of life and how to make the most of the rest of his. Known for his outsized acting, Nicholson gives one of the most understated performances of his career as a well-intentioned but clueless soul who undergoes an uncomfortable (but essential) emotional awakening. It's a grim, but thought-provoking film that will be worth watching for people approaching retirement or dealing with mid-life issues.

Title: Away From Her

  • Genre: Drama/Romance
  • Director: Sarah Polley
  • Date of Release: 2007
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Basic Plot: Complex story of Fiona, a vibrant woman (Julie Christie) who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and her relationship with her husband (Gordon Pinsent) who loves her but who has also been repeatedly unfaithful to her.
  • Review: In this tender and wise film, a man watches his wife fall in love with another man in an Alzheimer's facility, and out of love, accepts that the relationship is what she needs at this moment. Beautiful, moving and honest depiction of the strengths, agonies and betrayals of long-term love.

Title: Cocoon

  • Genre: Science Fiction/Comedy
  • Director: Ron Howard
  • Date of Release: 1985
  • Rating: PG 13
  • Basic Plot: Seniors at a retirement community discover that swimming in a certain pool helps restore their youth.
  • Review: Moving and amusing film that raises questions about the meaning of life, death, aging and youth, with excellent performances from Don Ameche (who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), Wilson Brimley and Hume Cronyn, Brian Dennehy and Steve Guttenberg.

Title: Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter

  • Genre: Documentary
  • Director: Marilyn Agrelo
  • Date of Release: 1994
  • Rating: none
  • Basic Plot: Story of a daughter learning to cope with her mother's Alzheimer's.
  • Review: Moving documentary about the transition a daughter went through in learning to cope with and ultimately accept her mother's Alzheimer's. The films explores family relations, love, memory, aging and change.

Title: Fried Green Tomatoes

  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Jon Avnet
  • Date of Release: 1991
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Basic Plot: Evelyn (Kathy Bates) meets Ninny (Jessica Tandy) in the nursing home where Ninny lives, and the two become friends. As Kathy listens to Ninny's tales of her youth, Kathy is affected by them and is gradually encouraged to make changes for the better in her own life.
  • Review: This entrancing film is, in a way, a testament to the value of older people's lives and experiences, and the ability to use their stories to help younger people. The film validates elder's lives and would be enjoyed by anyone facing old age.

Title: Going in Style

  • Genre: Comedy-drama
  • Director: Martin Brest
  • Date of Release: 1979
  • Rating: PG
  • Basic Plot: Three septuagenarians decide to rob a bank as a way of "going out in style."
  • Review: Despite the premise, this is a sweet and moving film about how different people cope with the aging process in a society where age is not necessarily revered.

Title: Harold and Maude

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: Hal Ashby
  • Date of Release: Dec. 1971
  • Rating: PG
  • Basic Plot: An eccentric elderly woman proves to a troubled young man that there's nothing trite about getting old (among other life lessons).
  • Review: Certainly not your typical film about aging, Harold and Maude nevertheless demonstrates well how much young people can learn from the elderly. This message may be even more crucial now than it was in 1971.

Title: Hoodwinked!

  • Genre: Animated Film
  • Directors: Cory and Todd Edwards
  • Date of Release: 2006
  • Rating: PG
  • Basic Plot: "Little Red Riding Hood" meets "Dragnet" in this surprisingly clever parody.
  • Review: There's much to like about this low-budget effort but particularly notable is the character of Granny (Glenn Close) who may be the most unlikely action hero on screen in recent years. No child will look at his or her own grandmother the same again.

Film: Pop

  • Genre: Documentary
  • Director: Joel Meyerowitz
  • Date of Release: 1998
  • Rating: none
  • Basic Plot: Joel and his son Sasha take Joel's father Hy, who is 87 and has Alzheimer's, on a road trip, mostly to give Joel's mother a break from the stress of caring for Hy.
  • Review: The film gives us a loving portrait of a man suffering from Alzheimer's and the impact his illness has on his loved ones. We see Hy, at times light-hearted, at times alert, at other times vacant. We see the loving way his son Joel and grandson Sasha treat him, as well as the less-than-loving way Hy's overwhelmed wife responds to him. And we see the toll that Alzheimer's takes on one family. The film should be helpful for anyone dealing with Alzheimer's in her family, or anyone who fears that they may have to deal with it.

Title: Prancer

  • Genre: Christmas movie
  • Director: John D. Hancock
  • Date of Release: 1989
  • Rating: G
  • Basic Plot: A little girl finds a wounded reindeer and convinces herself that it is part of Santa's team.
  • Review: A fine family film on many levels, dealing credibly with single-parent families, poverty and maintaining hope in the face of long odds. There is a nice subplot about a relationship that develops between a young girl and a depressed, misunderstood elderly woman.

Title: The Forgetting--A Portrait of Alzheimer's

  • Genre: Documentary
  • Director: Elizabeth Arledge
  • Date of Release: 2004
  • Rating: None
  • Basic Plot: This PBS special weaves together the history and biology of Alzheimer's with the experiences of Alzheimer's patients and caregivers, and the race to find a cure.
  • Review: This 90-minute documentary and Emmy Award Winner based on the best-selling book, The Forgetting, by David Shenk, educates and moves as it explains the disease and interviews people living with it and their caregivers.

Title: The Grey Fox

  • Genre: Modern Western
  • Director: Phillip Borsos
  • Date of Release: 1982
  • Rating: PG
  • Basic Plot: An aging stagecoach robber is released from jail and has to figure out what to do with his life now that there are no more stagecoaches.
  • Review: Moving depiction of a man adjusting to changing times and the loss of his former occupation. He becomes involved with a woman who appreciates him, despite his age.

Title: The Savages

  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Tamara Jenkins
  • Date: 2007
  • Rating: R
  • Basic Plot: Two dysfunctional adult children (Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman) have to deal with the senility of their father (Philip Bosco), from whom they have been estranged.
  • Review: In his excellent and extremely moving film, two adult children try to find appropriate care for their senile father, finally choosing a nursing home near where the brother lives. They also make an effort, unsuccessfully, to have a conversation with their father about his last wishes, and then deal with their grief after he dies. At the end, we see that the experience of losing their father has had an impact on their life choices, and they make some changes. This could be a very helpful film for anyone dealing with an aging parent, as it shows what you may have to deal with. Plus, it depicts a family that is less than perfect, which is the reality for most of us.

Film: Tokyo Story

  • Genre: Foreign Film
  • Director: Yasujiro Ozu
  • Date of Release: Japan, 1953
  • Rating: none
  • Basic Plot: Elderly parents living in the country decide to see their children one more time before they die, and so visit them in Tokyo.
  • Review: This poignant film shows how family ties can fray when children grow up and create their own lives and families. Sadly, when elderly parents arrive in Tokyo to visit their grown children, these children don't want to interrupt their lives to be with their parents, and also don't have much extra room for them to stay in. The parents feel they are a burden and the children do, too. It's a sad portrayal of old age, in which the parents have outlived their usefulness and no longer have a place in their children's lives.

    Tiffany Smith is the senior associate editor here at Care.com. She has written for All You, Time for Kids and the Boston Globe. And as a former babysitter, she knows a lot about fun games to play with kids. Getting them to eat their veggies -- that’s a different story! Follow her on Twitter @tiffanyiswrite.
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