Hollywood films featuring prominent older characters can sometimes offer the opportunity for senior care professionals, older adults and their family caregivers to see reflections of themselves. “The Judge,” starring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr. as estranged father and son is one such movie that reinforces some important issues in working with and caring for older adults:
1. Memory loss can be caused by many issues. The film illustrates a powerful example of how memory problems in older adults can be caused by something other than Alzheimer’s disease or another irreversible dementia.
2. Healthcare providers see the older patient differently than the family. Robert Duvall’s character is beloved by almost everyone in the film with the exception of his son played by Robert Downey Jr. This reminds us that a primary caregiver often has a different relationship and a long history for which healthcare providers often never have insight. Senior care professionals should have empathy for family caregivers that may not see the older patient in the same way they do. “The Judge” reminds us that there really are two sides to every story when there is discord in a family. And healthcare providers don’t always see the whole picture.
3. Just one death can upset the balance of a family. “The Judge” demonstrates how powerfully a family dynamic shifts when just one person passes away. Roles can change and relationships shift.
For example, Jeremy Strong plays the developmentally disabled brother of Robert Downey, Jr. who has been cared for by Robert Duvall and his wife. The issue of who will be responsible for the brother when the parents are gone is discussed between his siblings. Because many persons with developmental disabilities are living longer, this is a stressor that more families are facing than ever before.
4. Older adults still have a lot to contribute to the world. At 83 years old, the iconic Robert Duvall delivers a spectacular performance that is already generating Oscar buzz, putting yet another crack in the Silver Ceiling. He is an inspiration to older adults, reminding them that they still have much to contribute to our society.
5. Family estrangements don’t have to be forever. This may be the most powerful message to the audience. Many caring for an older loved one are dealing with estrangements in their families. Even though family members might love each other, there are disagreements which can lead to complete disconnect. Estrangement between family members can come about from misunderstandings of situations and failure to discuss the issues. Sometimes people make assumptions about another person’s perception on a situation.
Both serious and not-so-serious arguments can be the catalyst for an estrangement in the family. The long-term estrangement and reunification of the Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall characters after many years and how they work through these difficult feelings offers us hope for estrangements that may be going on in our own families.
6. Tragedy can reunite people. Preparing for challenges, like making plans for elder care or funerals can help bring long standing issues to the surface and give everyone an opportunity to address and deal with past hurts. “The Judge” also illustrates how serious legal and health problems sometimes can bring out the best in a family.
What other movies have you seen recently about older adults and their families have had an impact on you?