If you can’t imagine nursing homes as anything but depressing, join the club. I spent four years of my professional career supervising psychiatric care in Tennessee nursing homes, and without exception, every single one was a grim place. Institutional rooms and hallways, the loneliness, the overpowering odors of cleaning solutions and bodily waste: none of these elicit optimism and warm feelings. Even when the staff is caring (almost always the case), they’re shorthanded, limited to dispensing pills and changing beds and diapers.
John Oliver’s recent exposé felt fully on the mark to me. And until the profit motive is eliminated, and elder care is funded as generously as our military and police forces, I don’t foresee a change in this deplorable state of affairs in the US.
It Is Not Over Yet, a splendid new documentary, proves that nursing home care can be provided in keeping with the best humanistic values. May Bjerre Eiby observed the same things in Denmark as I did in Tennessee, and began saving her kroner as a young nurse. After seven years, she had enough money to buy an empty building and establish her own nursing home, the only one of its kind in her country.
At Dagmarsminde, the average prescriptions per resident number less than one (my jaw dropped at that statistic, having reviewed thousands of med lists numbering 8 or higher). As Ms. Eiby tells a visiting family, they don’t prescribe antidepressants, sedatives, or antipsychotics, but serve lots of cake. Meals are served on china, with real silverware, as a cat and a dog lounge nearby.
When someone dies, their body isn’t stealthily whisked out a side door. Instead, the coffin in the room, a toast is raised with a song in the deceased’s honor.
Eiby reassures a visiting French delegation that Dagmarsminde is not elitist. Clients pay room and board from a standard pension; she has no secret cash flow, but chooses to disburse funds differently. (Besides a hell of a lot less pills, I counted a ratio of two staff for every five residents.)
As directed by Louise Detlefsen, It Is Not Over Yet drops us into several months of life at Dagmarsminde. It opens with the arrival of two new guests. A pair of retired pharmacists, the wife Vibeke is more clearly impaired, no longer able to speak in sentences. Torkild’s deficits are less overt, but substantial enough that he cannot live independently. Together they exemplify the two behavioral poles of dementia: either docile to apathetic, or restless and irritable.
By observing Torkild in particular, we see the staff’s effectiveness at defusing and sidestepping potentially explosive situations. As soon as he arrives at Dagmarsminde, Torkild is ready to leave again, so caregivers verbalize the ways he can help his wife by staying. When he struggles to don a woman’s coat, he’s not chided for grabbing the wrong one; instead, they offer his own coat to him, calmly stating it’s a warmer alternative. Torkild expends nervous energy by roaming – like many a “sundowning” individual with dementia – and the home has a large fenced-in backyard that nicely serves this need.
I could go on about all the kind, correct things carried out by Eiby and her staff, but I’d rather you discover them for yourself. The director used a crew of one (her cinematographer husband Per Fredrik Skjöld), allowing her to capture countless intimate moments in Dagmarsminde’s bright setting. Natural greens (the residents enjoy a lot of outdoor time) and the light blue of the staff-worn smocks underscore the gentle philosophy embodied here.
I hope It Is Not Over Yet is widely viewed by the general public and healthcare policymakers. It needs to spark a compassionate revolution in the way we treat our elders.
The Last Archer continues the “love your elders” theme, but on a familial level. After her grandfather suffered a stroke that wiped out half his memories, Dácil Manrique de Lara started making a biographical film to fill the gaps for him.
And what a life he had! Alberto Manrique was part of an artists’ collective (the Archers of the film’s title) in the Canary Islands. Targeted and even tortured by Franco’s fascist regime, they extolled liberty through poetry and the visual arts. (In one delightful sequence, Manrique laughs at the language of their youth-infused manifesto, packed with expansive neologisms.
Primarily a painter, his works reveal a major talent, equally adept with expressive portraiture and surreal dreamscapes. In the latter category, I perceive the influence of Dali, de Chirico, and Miro.
In this confident, accomplished feature debut, Ms. Manrique de Lara demonstrates great visual panache herself. Flourishes like an animated dollhouse and chessboard liven up the storytelling. For most of The Last Archer, we only see the director from the back; the reason for this stylistic choice only becomes apparent (and quite affecting) at the conclusion.
The director informs us near the start that her grandfather died while she was still filming. I have no doubt, nonetheless, that he felt the love behind this tribute. Alberto Manrique was a person for whom “reality was never enough.” Interweaving her own life story into The Last Archer, Ms. Manrique de Lara illustrates art’s capacity to heal.
(Image credit for star rating: Yasir72.multan CC BY-SA 3.0 )