I watched the movie Friends with Benefits. It was typical rom-com stuff, but, about half way through, a new character was introduced: the father of one of the protagonists. He had Alzheimer’s, but what was interesting is that I didn’t immediately recognize it. For the first several scenes, the father was warmly welcoming and expansive, engaging in normal conversation with the son he hadn’t seen in a while. There was no hint of cognitive impairment. Then the father invited everyone to go for a boat ride the next day, but his wife corrected him (with a we-have-to-go-through-this-all-the-time look), reminding him that the boat had been sold ten years previously. For a brief moment, he seemed impatient with himself, but then recovered. A few moments later, the camera panned, and it was obvious he didn’t have any pants on. Still, I wasn’t sure that he wasn’t just an eccentric old man who wore his undershorts around the house. But soon it became clear that he had early Alzheimer’s.
But he wasn’t defined only by his Alzheimer’s. Ultimately he played a very important role as father advising adult son in making the movie’s crucial decision.
What I liked about the movie was that it was the portrayal of early Alzheimer’s. He wasn’t bed-ridden or violent or funny or in any way over-the-top. In most media portrayals, there’s little sense that much of the person is unaffected after the diagnosis. Here he was a real person struggling with what was happening to him. Also interesting was that his shifts between normal ability and impairment were complete about-faces: one minute fine, the next into bizarre behavior or speech. The portrayal of the disease was richer; it gave me another picture of what lies ahead.