When couples vow during their wedding ceremonies to love each other "in sickness and in health," most likely they aren't thinking about Alzheimer's. More than five million Americans currently have this progressive brain disease that causes severe problems with memory, thinking, and behavior, so that patients become incapable of caring for themselves. It is the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S. Dr. Lewis Thomas once described it as "the worst of all diseases, not just for what it does to the patient, but for its devastating effects on family and friends."
In "Away from Her," Fiona (Julie Christie) begins to experience memory lapses. She tells Grant (Gordon Pinsent), her husband of 44 years, that she thinks she is beginning to disappear. Over his objections, she insists on entering a residence facility for Alzheimer's patients. She seems to have an easier time adjusting to their changed situation than he does. She becomes attached to another patient and ignores Grant during his visits. Grant eventually realizes that in the name of love, he has to let go.