12 Family Movies to Watch This Holiday Season With Someone Who Has Dementia


Last updated: November 17, 2009
beatrix potter
Image by piddy77 used under the creative commons attribution license.

Looking for a holiday activity someone with dementia can enjoy with the whole family, including kids, during the upcoming holidays? An intergenerational movie is a stress-free way to share time and togetherness.

Here are 12 family movies to consider, organized into three categories: newish movies, old movies, and something different.

New(ish) Movies

Wholesome, cute, and clever, it starts as a classic Disney princess cartoon, then the drawn characters turn into real actors, including Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey (who look and sound exactly like their cartoon counterparts). It's especially well-suited for grandmas and granddaughters.

A 78-year-old homebody flies away with an 8-year-old; the perfect plot for an intergenerational showing.

Renee Zellweger stars as children's author Beatrix Potter, and Peter Rabbit (in cartoon form) makes surprise appearances. A happy story (set in England's lush Lake District) that might inspire pulling out the tales of Tom Kitten, Squirrel Nutkin, Jemima Puddleduck, et. al. to read aloud later.

  • The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep

A 2007 British family film about a Scottish boy who finds an odd egg at the shore of a nearby loch will offend no one and pleasantly surprise everyone. A plus: It's set in WWII, evocative for older viewers.

  • Spirited Away

Director Hayao Miyazaki, of Japan, made this Oscar-winning masterpiece for slightly older kids, with a wonderfully surreal flavor and equally surreal characters; even if you can't follow the plot, there's always something interesting onscreen.

Older Movies

  • The Sound of Music

Musicals are a great choice because people with dementia often respond to music well and retain musical memories. And this, of course, is the musical of musicals.

The biopic's big band music will resonate with viewers in their 80s.

Bright colors, great songs, not-too-scary action, and kids love it, too.

Little ones may have missed this modern classic when it was first out in 1995 (and the sequel in 1999), while their grandparents may wax nostalgic about toys their own kids had, like the Slinky dog and Mister Potato Head. If it's a hit, they can all go see Toy Story 3 in theaters next year.

Something Different

Both older and younger generations tend to respond well to animals. This gentle story of a dog and a cat is acted only by a dog and a cat, no humans. Dudley Moore narrates.

Another animal flick, this Oscar-winning documentary is slow but absorbing. Young kids might get impatient waiting for the don't-miss hatching of the baby penguins.

No, I don't know how the story of a man destined to repeat a single day over and over (until he gets it right) goes over in the mind of someone with dementia, but at minimum, the story's repetition is apt to make it easier to follow.

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5 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

over 2 years ago

I used to work in an Alzheimer's unit. About six of them were retired Manhattan Project scientists. Someone had put "Dumb and Dumber" on the TV. And eight people sat there and watched that movie--3 times! The attention span was just short enough that they caught the jokes and enjoyed it. While I think that movie is totally stupid, these people thoroughly enjoyed it.


over 2 years ago

Without hesitation, I would add "Its A Wonderful Life" to the list. Nostalgia, familiar actors and a great plot make this must-see. There's warmth, laughter and tears. And it may help jog memories for some elders.


almost 5 years ago

Thank you, Paula! This is my second Thanksgiving/ Christmas having my parents with us, but the first when not a one of us is in the hospital! Oops! Fate tempting--retract! Retract! My daughter, her fiance and their two little girls will be with us this year. "Groundhog Day" was first on my list of movies for all, then the standards "It's a Wonderful Life" and "The Sound of Music". But I had forgotten the "Glenn Miller Story", and "Toy Story." Great additions to the list! Another one that has, to my mind, something for everyone, is "Kung Fu Panda". I have always ignored everything that even smacks of cartoon, but this one is wonderful (one of my nieces told me "Aunt Gin, I KNOW you'll like it--I know you'll LOVE it!"). Sweet message, good story, and the most fantastic color graphics! On the "movie night" over Thanksgiving, everybody tosses the names of their five favorite "we can all watch'em" movies into a hat, and the ensuing discussion is often the best of the evening, with young vs. old defending their favorites and arguing their merits. Last year I watched my brother's three girls enraptured by their maternal Grandmother's favorite, "Breakfast at Tiffany's". Never expected that! Well, it seems that I have reached the "wee smalls" and am in the rambling mode of quiet time (treasured!). Just wanted to recognize the thoughtfulness of your list. Movies seem to be the thing that really, once the day's conversation has worn, tie us all together in a 'don't have to go anywhere' shared experience. And an aside--something we're trying this year is a grandmothers, mothers, daughters and granddaughters pajama party (boys' night out, girls' night in). We're calling it the "Moms, Missies, Margaritas and Movie Night". It will either be a fabulous success or a miserable failure. In either case, it will be fodder for conversation at the next holiday family event! Thanks for smart writing, and for writing smart. Always a pleasure to be at the other end of the words.


almost 5 years ago


Anonymous said almost 5 years ago

Thanks so much for this valuable list! A stress reliever. I'm going to order some of the movies from Netflix.


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