Images from an unknown territory

Ageing / Inspired by the methods of Florence Nightingale, nurse May Bjerre Eiby looks to shift the way people with dementia are treated in the Danish healthcare system.
Country: Denmark

It Is Not Over Yet is a deeply human, moving documentary that will change forever how we humans perceive ourselves and our humanity. Louise Detlefsen has presented a nursing home in Dagmarsminde, Denmark where people with dementia are treated with compassion and live a pleasant, joyful life. She challenged the taken for granted notions about dementia and its cure and proposed a completely new perspective on the elusive line separating the situation when life is not over yet from the moment when it’s time to go. Most of all, she reminds us that, unlike the thoroughly explored and very well-known process of growing up, there is very little we know about the process of getting old.

It Is Not Over Yet, a film by Louise Detlefsen
It Is Not Over Yet, a film by Louise Detlefsen


As the duration of an average human life rapidly increases, the need to better control this unknown territory is becoming more pressing too. Dignitas, the Swiss society which, in their own words, «advocates for improving care and choice in life and at life’s end», and was made famous for example by Michel Houellebecq in his novel The Map and the Territory (La Carte et le Territoire, 2010) offers a radical way of gaining the certainty. Death itself might indeed present a certainty that some would prefer instead of having to face the uncertainty about what is waiting for us in old age. In any case, the debates about euthanasia and assisted suicide sound outdated today, after Covid-19 has reminded us that taking care of elders is the responsibility of those left behind. Learning that, in various parts of the world, neglect and poor hygiene in nursing homes facilitated the rapid spread of Covid-19 and caused numerous deaths amongst the most ancient members of our societies was a reminder that this is unforgivable. The survival of the fittest might drive the evolution in nature, but not in human society. Taking care of the weaker members of our community, including the old ones, is what makes us human.

The survival of the fittest might drive the evolution in nature, but not in human society

Better than Home

How to do this? How to take care of the ageing members of our society in the right way? Watching It Is Not Over Yet, one gets well aware that we know very little about this. Yet, this question directly concerns every one of us, be it because of our ageing relatives or because we worry about our own future as we get old. Many will also find the experience of Dagmarsminde founder, the nurse May Bjerre Eiby, familiar as she herself suffered the painful loss of her father due to neglect at a nursing home. This is the very first thing we learn in the film and it surely facilitates the identification with its protagonist, a compassionate young woman. The determination with which she studied and then saved for years to construct the nursing home according to her own beliefs, along with her blond-haired, angel-like figure, make her a lovable heroine. It’s a true pleasure to follow the camera following her as she lovingly and self confidentially performs the daily chores in running her nursing home. But the true discovery of the film is the «Compassion Treatment» that Bjerre Eiby developed together with her staff. Inspired by the methods introduced by Florence Nightingale 150 years ago, as well as Danish philosopher Løgstrup, this method is completely different from the way people with dementia are treated in the healthcare system. Believe me, after watching the film, you will sincerely hope that May Bjerre Eiby is right and one can indeed treat dementia with «hugs, touch, talking, humour, eye contact, cake, nature, bubbles, and the joy of community», as the method is described in the publicity material.

It Is Not Over Yet, a film by Louise Detlefsen
It Is Not Over Yet, a film by Louise Detlefsen

Between two deaths

Louise Detlefsen is an experienced documentary filmmaker. In her statement about the film, she meticulously described her approach in establishing a relationship with the film’s subjects and the procedures put in place to respect the privacy of the residents. She introduced the «Compassion Treatment» as a controversial method and even if there is no mention of the controversy in the film itself, she should not be blamed for idealising. On the contrary, within the basic structure of the film, the narration is realistically placed between two deaths. In the beginning, we are immersed into the day-to-day rhythm of the nursing home as residents are informed about a death of a fellow tenant. Towards the end, we get involved in the process from the perspective of the dying person. Besides, at the very centre of the monotonous flow of the events, composed mostly of mundane occurrences such as new arrivals, birthdays, and deaths, we learn about a deeply troubling event. The event is never fully explained, and as several questions in this regard are left unanswered, this rather unambiguously indicates that there are unanswered questions regarding Bjerre Eiby’s nursing home too. But this does not prevent the growth of hope in every one of us that the treatment based on compassion and «a lot of cake» might be the right approach to people with dementia and, hopefully, many others, once we get old. This, I believe, is also the main ambition of the film – to ensure that May Bjerre Eiby and her «Compassion Treatment» get proper attention and consideration. We have been treating dementia and other conditions typical for old age as any other illness, or kept them in the dark, for too long.

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Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc
Our regular contributor. Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher.

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