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Carers’ responses to shifting identity in dementia in Iris and Away From Her: cultivating stability or embracing change?
  1. David M R Orr,
  2. Yugin Teo
  1. School of Education & Social Work, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr David M R Orr, School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QQ, UK; d.orr{at}


An emphasis on supporting and maintaining self-identity in people who have dementia for as long as possible has gone hand in hand with the revitalisation of dementia interventions, services and empowerment. However, recognition of the need for change, adaptation and personal growth is as necessary when living with dementia as at any other time in people's lives. Those who care for people with dementia must constantly navigate this tension between continuity and change within the context of memory loss, knowing when to respond by reinforcing the ‘self’ they have known over time, and when it may be better to respond by acknowledging the changes that have taken place in that ‘self’. The creative arts are avenues for the exploration of the caring relationship under these conditions, conveying the challenges and stimulating audiences to ask how they themselves might choose to respond in a similar situation. This article considers how the scenarios of two noted films, Iris (dir. Richard Eyre, 2001 UK)) and Away From Her (dir. Sarah Polley, 2006 Can), present the dilemmas of identity and caring. In both, a husband cares for a wife experiencing cognitive decline, but responds differently in each to her shifting needs and experience of identity. We argue that the two films reveal complementary and provocative perspectives on this situation. They offer no easy answers, but provide insights into the everyday decisions characteristic of caring for someone who has dementia.

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