371 Productions | WPT | Center on Age and Community | Peck School of the Arts 
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Description of the film

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Almost Home is a feature-length, cinema verité documentary chronicling a year in the life of a retirement community in America's Midwest. It appears on PBS just as a tidal wave of baby boomers reaches their 60s; meaning that half of our country is reckoning either with its own aging or that of a loved one. This is no easy task for Americans steeped in denial about aging and frightened by the specter of dependency. We prefer to combat aging with pills, creams, surgery, and humor instead of understanding its realities and planning ahead. Media only deepens the denial by proffering images of "positive aging" like 90-year-old parachuters, while shunning images of frailty and dementia. Almost Home rescues real stories of aging — frightening, tender, funny … and honest — from an exile of denial.

Almost Home follows one couple bonded by their struggle with Alzheimer's and another divided by the challenges of Parkinson's; "sandwich generation" children torn between caring for their parents and managing their own affairs; nursing assistants doing crucial but unsavory work for poverty wages while juggling precarious lives at home; healthy elders who fear the day they may have to move to the dreaded nursing home; and a visionary nursing home director feverishly working to alleviate such fear by transforming his impersonal, regimented hospital-like institution into a warm "home" that promotes autonomy and inspires independence instead of fear.

The stories unfold at Saint John's on the Lake in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a retirement community (independent living, assisted living and nursing home) reinventing its 135-year-old medical model of care (think hospital) into a social one (think home). The visionaries behind this "culture-change" revolution seek to tear down traditional walls between residents, staff, and families and to replace the stigma of nursing homes as institutions of boredom and despair with a vision of "community" where people live rich and full lives. To succeed, they will have to win over skeptical managers; resistant nurses mired in regulations; overworked, underpaid nursing assistants; and complacent residents and families accustomed to being excluded from many of the decisions that affect them.

A character-driven, true-life drama, Almost Home engages viewers while eliciting important issues such as: coping with disability and dementia; adapting to how aging changes relationships; negotiating caregiving responsibilities; preparing for the end of life; the economics of nursing home care; the difficulty of surviving on nursing assistant wages; and the challenge of changing nursing homes. Almost Home adds up to a surprising story that grips you from the start, never flinches from reality, and offers hope where many think there is none.

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