Older Adults on the Big Screen: Reflections on Thelma

Have you met Thelma yet? NCALL loves positive portrayals of older adults, and June Squibb’s Thelma is a delight. This comedy — about an older woman who is scammed out of $10,000 and, when the police are unable to help her, takes matters into her own hands — does a great job depicting the challenges of aging while at the same time introducing a character who is confident, creative, and brave. While we don’t endorse vigilante justice, we did appreciate that Thelma’s story offers some good reminders about working with older survivors. Here are a few takeaways (no spoilers, we promise!):

  • Social supports matter! Thelma’s close relationship with her grandson, is warm, genuine, and mutually supportive. Studies have shown that remaining socially engaged improves quality of life and is associated with better physical, mental, and emotional health.[i]
  • You’re never too old to do incredible things! At age 75, Barbara Hillary became the first Black woman to reach the North Pole. At 89, Fauja Singh took seriously to running and competed in international marathon events, shooting to fame when, at the age of 93, he completed the 26.2-mile distance in 6 hours and 54 minutes. And June Squibb first appeared in a film in 1990, when she was 62. She’s now 94, and Thelma is her first leading role.[ii]
  • Older adults are not a monolith! All humans are uniquely complex, and adults over 50 exist on a broad spectrum of physical and cognitive ability. Like many older adults, Thelma experiences age-related issues like hearing loss, struggles with technology, and the loss of long-time friends. But she is also resourceful, artistic, determined, and compassionate. Unlike her patronizing daughter and son-in-law, who only see Thelma as someone who needs protection, professionals who work with older adults must honor and respect every older survivor’s full identity. They have acquired a lifetime of experiences, skills, and resilience, and are so much more than the sum of their age-related challenges.[iii]

Did you see Thelma? Let us know what you thought!

[i] Acierno, R., Hernandez-Tejada, M. A., Anetzberger, G. J., Loew, D., & Muzzy, W. (2017). The National Elder Mistreatment Study: an 8-year longitudinal study of outcomes. Journal of elder abuse & neglect, 29(4), 254-269.

[ii] For more examples of older people who have found success later in life, see https://vantageaging.org/blog/success-later-in-life/.

[iii] To learn more about person-centered advocacy, see NCALL’s toolkit, Working with Older Survivors: A Framework for Advocates.

Written by Ann Laatsch, J.D., NCALL Justice System Coordinator

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