Thursday, December 22, 2011

Should Margaret Thatcher's Dementia Make the Movie?

We're taking a break from all of the holiday photos and videos to bring attention to an upcoming movie that features Meryl Street [shown in photo] as Margaret Thatcher, the controversial former prime minister of England. "The Iron Lady" shows many facets of the world leader, including her mental decline as the result of Alzheimer's Disease. She is still living with the disease today.

And that's drawn criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. Thatcher's daughter disclosed in 2008 that her mother had dementia, so the movie provides no new revelations. But some close friends take issue with the inclusion of her latest years in the biopic.

“I was strongly against the film depicting a living person with dementia. That was very upsetting for her friends and family,” Charles Moore, the authorized biographer of Thatcher who will publish his book upon her death, said in a telephone interview with the Wall Street Journal. “It’s an extremely unkind thing to do.”

Other prominent world leaders, such as the late President Ronald Reagan, also had the fatal disease. Unless the family chooses otherwise, the mass media generally respects their wishes to keep the matter private.

In doing so, however, it also may leave the impression that people with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia no longer "exist" in our society - which is far from the case. At present, the Alzheimer's Association estimates half of all adults 85 and older have dementia, most likely Alzheimer's. And people more frequently live well into their 80s and 90s if they manage their health well in earlier years.

Such extended longevity does and will continue to put enormous stress on existing resources, from health care and housing to families charged with caring for a member with memory impairment. This movie also reminds us that Alzheimer's is an equal opportunity disease, striking all segments of society.

And yet, each journey through the disease is a highly personal one. Put yourself in the Thatcher family's position, and you must wonder if this is how they want their matriarch to be remembered.

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