Please describe How You Are to Me.
How You Are to Me is a narrative short film that follows a woman caregiver (Margaret) and her husband (John) living with Alzheimer’s disease for whom she cares 24/7. From the disoriented to the intimate, from the frustrating to the tender, every moment of a caregiver and loved one’s interactions is highlighted in this beautiful, heart-breaking, and educational film.
How You Are to Me also has an educational component, utilizing ecopsychosoical approaches to dementia care and encouraging modifications in the way we communicate to provide those individuals living with dementia a fuller life and fulfilling relationships. Our goal is to fully motivate those interacting with individuals living with dementia to learn this approach and be able to utilize it in their everyday interactions to improve the lives of everyone involved. How You Are To Me is free to watch on the film’s website and YouTube, and information on the communication technique as well as teaching materials can also be found on the website.
How did you come to create dementia-related art?
I have been around the dementia community for the majority of my life. In the 2010s, I found myself working on the Scripted-IMPROV project, a National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Aging–funded trial studying the effects of interactive theater on the dementia population. I wrote scripts, performed in test and final performances, and assisted in the development of training materials that teach anyone how to perform the shows. From that experience, I realized, as a creator, I had a potentially unique way of presenting and creating conversations about how we could improve our dementia communication skills as a community.
How has working on dementia-related art changed you?
Working on How You Are to Me gave me a new mission statement when it came to creating larger pieces of work. I realized that, as an artist, we have the opportunity to create conversations that may not exist in other mediums, to push boundaries, and to shed light on subject matter that may be more difficult to highlight in other mediums. It has, at some level, given the works I have done since, or am currently working on, a deeper depth of meaning and purpose.
How has How You Are to Me been received?
How You Are to Me did very well in the festival circuit, winning a range of awards. The thing that surprised our team the most was that almost every audience member connected to the film and left affected. It opened our eyes to how many caregivers, or affected family members, there are in the world.
After our screenings, there often was not a dry eye in the house, which gave us faith that we honored both the disease and the caregiver. This outpouring of emotion also highlighted how dementia deeply affects us all and the monumental burden the caregiver often takes on.
How You Are to Me is also an opportunity to continue the conversation that, though many see dementia as a loss of the individual, the person still exists, their personality is still present, but the way in which we communicate with them must be adjusted. We have had the joy of using the film to teach dementia communication techniques to caregivers at conferences across the country. To see caregivers understand communication approaches in a new light has been one of our greatest joys.
This work is dedicated to: The film is not dedicated to anyone in particular, however, in the process of writing and making the film I spent time volunteering and then interviewing staff at dementia care facilities and this film is an ode to them, as well as the caregiver, and everyone of the loved ones touched by dementia in the family of those who worked on, and supported, the film.