New Documentary Shows Elderly Mom Moving Disabled Daughter to Care Facility


Mimi Thornton has been caring for her daughter Dona, who has an intellectual disability, by herself since her husband passed away in 1968. Thornton, now 92, and Dona, now 64, lived together in Dallas for nearly 50 years, until Thornton was forced to make the difficult decision to move Dona into an assisted living facility. That transition is the focus of the new PBS documentary, “Mimi and Dona,” which was produced and directed by Mimi’s granddaughter, filmmaker Sophie Sartain.

In the film’s latest clip, both Mimi and Dona appear inconsolable on the day they’re separated, but they proceed with the move upon their family’s insistence.

“Oh, this is hard,” an emotional Thornton tells one relative immediately after saying goodbye to her daughter. “I don’t think I can take it.” As soon as she realizes her mother is about to drive away, an equally upset Dona is shown getting physically aggressive with one of her new caretakers.

After her family members try to explain that moving Dona into a facility is in everyone’s best interest, Thornton becomes even more distraught. “I don’t want to,” she protests. “You’re all just making it harder on me. You don’t know how hard this is… I never dreamed I’d be going through this.”

While the plan is for Dona to remain in the assisted living facility, it hasn’t been revealed whether this is the final decision. In a plot synopsis on the PBS website, the network wrote, “Ultimately, family bonds run deep and true, even when faced with the greatest challenge yet.”

An estimated 4.6 million Americans have an intellectual or developmental disability, according to The Arc, and more than 860,000 caregivers of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are over the age of 60 in the U.S. The Arc predicts this number will “grow substantially with the aging of the baby boom generation” — plus individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities are living longer thanks to advancements in medicine and care.

“Mimi and Dona” premieres on PBS’ Independent Lens Monday, Nov. 23 at 10/9c.

If you are a parent or family member of someone with a developmental disability seeking resources for future planning, visit The Arc’s website for more information.

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