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Relic (2020) & Dementia

Relic tells the story of the effects on a family when one of their members starts suffering from Dementia. A horror film that's unsettling and heartwrenching. Ghouls discuss how the house symbolizes Edna's mind, why Kat refuses to investigate spooky hallways, and Gabe shares a personal experience of a caretaker caring for someone with Dementia.

Sources in this Episode:

Other Reviews on Relic:

Ways to Help/Get Help:

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Media from this week's episode:

Relic (2020) Director/Writer: Natalie Erika James

Summary by IMDB: A daughter, mother and grandmother are haunted by a manifestation of dementia that consumes their family's home.


Relic: Taking Care of Our Own

by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Does it appropriately represent the horrors of a mental illness? And does it inspire empathy & compassion towards an individual with this mental illness?

Relic follows three women as the deal with a deteriorating mind. Kay, Edna’s daughter, and Sam, Kay’s daughter, come to investigate the disappearance of Edna. Its made fairly clear that this is a family similar to Hereditary in that they do not communicate. When questioned by police about her mother’s whereabouts, Kay has to admit she hasn’t talked much to her mother. Despite an incident occurring during Christmas. Kay also doesn’t seem to talk to her daughter much or her daughter doesn’t seem to confide in her. She hasn’t told Kay about quitting her job or what she’s doing with her life.

When Edna returns, as if nothing happened and she isn’t covered in dirt, we get a brief glimpse at who this woman was/is when she’s all here. She is spunky, stern, and prideful. She makes snide remarks and often dismisses the concern from her family. She is headstrong and reminded me so much of my own grandmother. After some unsettling moments, Kay wants to send her mother to a home. Sam is upset by this and asks why she can’t simply take her home. Kay says its about having time for care but I think there’s more here.

I definitely understand the hesitancy with Kay and and not starting that argument and knowing that her mother is going to be defiant in that anyway. Seeing that is a really nice moment to understand who Edna is and it then influences and explains the rest of the interactions. It makes the times when you see her as vulnerable, stressed, and as old as she is feel even more sad about it because you saw what she actually could have been if she wasn't suffering from dementia. I think that was a really great move and there's also conversations with Kay about sending her mom to a nursing home because she can't do things for her or can't take care or give her the care that she needs. Sam makes this comment like isn't it supposed to be that your parents change your nappies and then you change theirs. You're supposed to take care of your own and not send them away and that's like one of the big battles there. There’s a scene where Sam is frightened because Edna lashes out and yet, I don’t think she would’ve changed her mind about looking after her at home. I think those moments are more of a psychological horror and that those moments are uncomfortable but really believable and understandable for people who might have similar experiences.

There are horror aspects to it in that the house itself represents Edna's mind. When there's a constant mold growing and there's this really nice, beautiful window that they had taken from this old house that used to be on the yard that belonged to Edna's ancestors. It was her great-grandfather or someone who had dementia as well but died on his own and they had torn down that shed or small house but they took that window because it was elaborate and put it onto their house and that's representing you inheriting this trait and this illness. That’s where the mold is first seen and it is symbolic of the infection that's spreading. There's even a bit of haunted house scenes where Sam is lost in the now labyrinth of the house after seeing those notes that say alarming reminders like, “my name is edna,” and “my mother's eyes are green.” You are descending into the chaos that is Edna's mind because nothing in there is working correctly. The halls that used to lead to this place don't lead to that anymore and now we're going in circles and now we're lost and things are becoming smaller and suffocating. It's a physical representation of what Edna is experiencing when she's like hitting these walls of not remembering or understanding where she is and what she's doing. She is consistently lost and feeling afraid. Because of that, you feel helpless and there are times Sam really did feel helpless and was panicked and just calling out for her mother. To think that Edna to some degree probably was calling for her own mother and that that's why she was trying to recall what her mother looked like. I really appreciated that part of the horror.

I think that part was very frightening. When I was watching I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is like Stephen King’s Rose Red!” If you had a string to follow where you were going you would turn around and the string would just be through the wall because the house is changing. This is just madness, now we're all in it and we just have to go. I think that imagery was really effective and in my looking through some of the articles and found that people feel it is an accurate representation of what that experience is for caretakers. To see the person you know becoming somebody else and to become vulnerable. There’s that moment with Edna where she was going to eat the photos and thenKay coming and being like, “don't do that!” The sheer panic of trying to reconcile this woman who's in front of her who is simultaneously her mother and not her mother. In that moment she is sad and crying out wondering where her family is, wanting to go home, and you can tell that that is not a part of Edna that Kay had ever interacted with.

It's not a great horror movie like there's some spooks but that definitely is the secondary part of what this film is. It's just kind of also happening but the primary focus is this representation and I do think it promotes empathy and compassion towards an individual with dementia in that you really get to see how alarming and stressful it is.

Trigger Warning for anyone who may find stories of dementia upsetting. This is an intimate and real experience of a caretaker. Dementia Conversation with my mother:

My grandmother’s husband had dementia. I am french and so we call my grandmother, Memiere so that’s what I’ll be referring to her as. Also, we called my grandfather Papa. My mother helped Memiere a lot with managing Papa during his years dealing with dementia. My mother says he would often forget where he was. He spent most of his life up north in Massachusetts but had retired down south in South Carolina with my Memiere. He couldn’t remember this so he spent a lot of his time being confused about where he was. Feeling as if he didn’t belong and wanting to go back “home.”

He would often ask where his wife was and then see Memiere and feel better. My mother said he would panic or feel naked if he wasn’t wearing his boots. He spent so much of his life in his shoes, going to work that if he didn’t wear them he would feel wrong. She spent many days lacing and unlacing those boots, she says.

My mother says the hardest and saddest part of the experience was those scarce moments when he would realize something was wrong. When he would, in a way, snap out of it and come to. He would have a hard time communicating and found himself reciting random numbers. In the midst of this, he would become panicked and aggravated. He would say, “I know I’m not right.” and would be flustered. My mother says those times were the hardest because he was facing his own weakness and the truth that he was no longer in control of his body the way he’d been his whole life.

Papa wasn’t a terribly emotional or sentimental man. He wasn’t unkind but he didn’t overtly convey his love and care. He was a man from a different time. But during these days when he came to, he began to acknowledge the changes and his limitations. So he wrote my mother a letter. Memiere wrote it for him as he spoke. It was a letter telling my mother how much he loved her and ways he hoped to continue to take care of her. That’s one of the most heartbreaking things my mother experienced.

Towards the end of his life, he didn’t eat much. There were weeks in which they had to force feed him and even then, only little. My mother said she feels that something in the brain just tells them to stop as if to say, “this is it.” He also had trouble sleeping which would be hard on Memiere. He wouldn’t stay still, often pacing and constantly roaming around. Which was also just annoying for Memiere.

There were some scary instances such as him trying to break a door or window. Sometimes Papa would wander off and one time he was missing for four hours. An elderly neighbor found him in a pond with cows. He had wandered into the pond and had gotten pretty far. It was really troubling. Sometimes, he would get angry but Memiere doesn’t take an attitude very well so if he’d get snippy she’d quickly tell him, “You will not talk to me like that.” and it snapped him out of it. I imagine it was a reminder of who his wife was. But it was understandable for him to get frustrated with himself and the situation so he would vent that out at those around him.

To help, my mother would take Papa out to give Memiere a break but also to get him out of the house. They’d go to Dunkin Donuts or as my family calls it “Double D” or go to McDonald’s and get a hamburger with just ketchup, the way he always liked it, and fries. They would send my Memiere on vacations so she could have a break.

In those moments when he was more aware of things, he would ask where his family was and they would reassure him they were there. They would let him know they cared for him and that put him at ease.

My mother says that she believes he lived as long as he did because they were the ones taking care of him. His family. They would put on his boots. When it’s someone you love struggling, you can have more compassion, understanding, and patience to care that perhaps a facility/nurse wouldn’t have. They were lucky that they were able to take care of him in the way they did. My Memiere was already retired and my mother’s job allowed her to take time off when she needed it. She said in those moments when he knew it was them and he could see and appreciate them, show his love - that was a blessing. It hurts her to think of anyone who may be dropped off into a home and left there. They don’t always know you’re there but in those moments when they do, wouldn’t you want to be there?

Then she quoted George Lopez talking about how we keep our own. Which is what I mentioned when we were watching this film lol.


Dementia: Advice on Proper Care for our Loved Ones

by Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

To start today’s facts section I wanted to explicitly state that I do not have a personal experience with Dimentia and express that I am presenting information that I don't have personal context for, and hope that nothing I say is inaccurate or damaging. I know that oftentimes with mental illness classifications, or honestly anything that happens with the brain, that the definitions or blanket interpretations of an illness can be damaging or contrary to the feelings or views of individuals who actually have said mental illness. I also grew up within western society, and process daily how much of what has been taught to me is inaccurate or skewed to benefit capitalism and white supremacy, so if there is anyone who has had a different experience with Dimentia, either culturally or personally and they want to let us know so we can know better, please don’t hesitate to send us an email at

What is Dementia?

Dementia as defined by multiple websites but for credit's sake, specifically from The Baltimore Sun’s article titled ‘Our hearts beat in unison’: Maryland family learns to cope with dementia defines dementia as an umbrella term for a group of diseases associated with cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s disease is both the most common form and the leading cause of dementia, with more than 70 percent of dementia cases being attributed to Alzheimer’s.

In 2020, the WHO announced that dementia was one of the top 10 causes for death, with nearly 2 million deaths attributed to it worldwide in 2019 alone.

An article in Medical News Today titled Dementia: Symptoms, stages and types offers some fast facts about dementia:

  • there are an estimated 47.5 million dementia sufferers worldwide

  • one new case of dementia is diagnosed every 4 seconds

  • dementia mostly affects older people but is not a normal part of aging

What are some of the things someone with Dementia encounters?

A person who is dealing with dementia may start to develop a variety of symptoms mostly associated with memory loss. It’s said that some symptoms may be noticed by the individual experiencing them, and others may only be noticed by others. This is also from the Medical News Today article:

Possible symptoms of dementia:

  • Recent memory loss – a sign of this might be asking the same question repeatedly.

  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks – for example, making a drink or cooking a meal.

  • Problems communicating – difficulty with language; forgetting simple words or using the wrong ones.

  • Disorientation – getting lost on a previously familiar street, for example.

  • Problems with abstract thinking – for instance, dealing with money.

  • Misplacing things – forgetting the location of everyday items such as keys, or wallets, for example.

  • Mood changes – sudden and unexplained changes in outlook or disposition.

  • Personality changes – perhaps becoming irritable, suspicious or fearful.

  • Loss of initiative – showing less interest in starting something or going somewhere.

As the patient ages, late-stage dementia symptoms tend to worsen.

As Dementia is impacting so many individuals and their families across the globe, there’s been a push for more accurate film representation of the illness. I think horror has done both good and bad in this department. With both over dramaticized representations of what dementia could look like to more honest representations. In an article from USA today 'It feels like a horror film': New dementia dramas 'Falling,' 'Supernova' aim for truthfulness over tears by Patrick Ryan, they interview Viggo Mortensen’s experience with their Mom and other relatives having gone through dementia. Specifically his mother, Grace, and his father Viggo Sr. both experienced having Dementia and both unfortunately lost their lives to it. Viggo speaks to his experience in the article saying "It's something I'm familiar with, and had never seen accurately reflected in movies about dementia or Alzheimer's," says Mortensen, 62, making his directorial debut with "Falling", in which he plays a gay man caring for his bigoted, dementia-stricken dad (Lance Henriksen).

They go on to say "Even in the best portrayals, it involves somebody who's confused most of the time," he says. "My experience is that those who are confused, by and large, are the observers, not the person (with dementia). Because that person is actually seeing, hearing and feeling those things. They seem real to them – not confusing."

In thinking of what you can do to help someone with Dementia, Viggo offers some advice.

"Join their point of view, to some degree. Meet them," Mortensen says. "If somebody who has dementia tells you they just had lunch with someone you know has been dead 30, 40 years, the worst thing you can do is say, 'They're not here anymore.' Because then they are upset and confused, and that person dies again. What do you do instead? Say, 'What did you have for lunch?' "

How do you manage Dementia?

The Alzheimer’s Association offers some support for both prevention and managing Dementia.

Dementia help and support are available

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with dementia, you are not alone. The Alzheimer's Association is one of the most trusted resources for information, education, referral and support.

In another article from the Alzheimer Association,

Five research studies reported at AAIC 2019 suggest:

  • Adopting four or five healthy lifestyle factors reduced risk of Alzheimer’s dementia by 60% compared to adopting none or only one factor.

  • Adherence to a healthy lifestyle may counteract genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Having a higher cognitive reserve, built through formal education and cognitive stimulation, may benefit the aging brain by reducing risk of dementia among people exposed to high levels of air pollution.

  • Confirmation that early adult to mid-life smoking may be associated with cognitive impairment at mid-life, as early as one’s 40s.

  • Alcohol use disorder significantly increased risk of dementia in older women.

“While there is no proven cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s, a large body of research now strongly suggests that combining healthy habits promotes good brain health and reduces your risk of cognitive decline,” said Maria C. Carrillo, PhD, Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer. “The research reported today at AAIC gives us attainable, actionable recommendations that can help us all live a healthier life.”


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