As we’ve expanded our services across Washington this year, we are continually blown away by the amazing people we meet who are tirelessly working to make the lives of those living with dementia and their families better. According to the Alzheimer’s Association there are 300,000 caregivers in the state of Washington putting in 434 million hours of unpaid care a year. So we were especially thrilled to meet documentary filmmaker Kitty Norton who has made it her life’s work to shine a light on these unsung heroes.
We caught up with Kitty upon her return from a 4-day camping trip – she shared her story still covered in sunscreen, bugspray, dirt and dust.
Tell us your “Why”.
I had so many reasons I wanted to share dementia family caregiver stories both in the blog I authored, Stumped Town Dementia, and the family caregiver documentary I made, Wine, Women, & Dementia. First and foremost I wanted caregivers to be seen, heard, and celebrated! While we are certainly studied for our demographics, our journey in this set of diseases is rarely a part of the narrative. So, my goal was to let other caregivers know they are not the only ones navigating this swinging dementia lifestyle, that their dementia person isn’t the only one who suddenly abandoned all semblance of personal hygiene, or has gone from mild to malicious in zero seconds flat; that their struggles, successes, and failures in caregiving are shared with millions around the world (16 million in the U.S. alone), and that they deserve to celebrate themselves for showing up and doing their best!
Rippl is committed to breaking the stigma around senior mental health and dementia specifically. Your film does so much to help drive the conversation into the open. Tell us more about your inspiration to make this film and what has surprised you about the process.
Besides celebrating caregivers, I also wanted to combat the continuous tragedy narrative that is the overwhelming story of this journey in movies, television, books, newspaper articles. Dementia is tough, there is definitely tragedy, but it’s also a very, very long disease – if you are going to spend a decade crying while helping your loved one to the end of your life, the road is going to be much more arduous than dementia already has in store for you and your loved one. And you’re going to be really, really dehydrated. 😉
My sister and I utilized the sense of humor our parents gifted us to cope. I spread that wry appreciation of the absurd to the readers of my blog (and man oh man, dementia is the height of absurdity at times). In turn I discovered others who were employing similar strategies; finding hilarity in accepting the unacceptable, holding the heartbreak in tandem with the laughter and love. I wanted to share that message.
And, I wanted to give the generation of caregivers coming up a leg up in this journey. In the film particularly, we strove to highlight all the biggies that are common in dementia; sleeplessness, medication struggles, financial challenges, hygiene challenges, The Rage Stage (ugh), death and the caregiver aftermath (which I’ve still not cleared!). Nobody gave our family a heads up on any of this, and I hear the same story from so many other caregivers. So myself and every caregiver cast member are hoping the next generation doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel like all the generations before it have.
Tell us a story about a recent interaction that had an effect on you? What resonated about their story?
Wine, Women, & Dementia played the Vero Beach Film Festival in June 2023, and I got to tour a memory care facility as I was collecting informational pieces from local businesses for audience swag bags. I love meeting the local caregiver communities in festival cities, and really love interacting with the residents!
The residents were finishing up their lunch while I was chatting with them. I spied one feller who, instead of eating his sandwich as it was served to him, put the giant chocolate chip cookie intended for his dessert between the two pieces of bread and was happily chomping away. Uh… GENIUS! My whole life I had never even thought to take such a bold step into such sandwich ingenuity! We all laughed and the dude grinned from ear to ear. I spent about a half hour with them all and felt close to my mom again in their shy smiles or saucy comebacks.
OK, now for a little fun. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
You mean I gotta start another profession? Again? Sheesh! This’ll be my fourth time!
Kidding! I don’t have any other profession to attempt. I will stay in the creative arts, combining it with a deep desire to continue to punch dementia in the face and supporting those folks crazy enough to take the journey on for their loved ones.
What is your favorite thing you listened to or watched recently?
The Barbie Movie! Duh.
Rachel Lanham is a Rippl Changemaker and leads marketing at Rippl