The loneliness of the Alzheimer’s care giver

When I fill in for Kerri Miller on Wednesday, I’m doing a segment on Alzheimer’s [update: see above].

If there’s a more despicable disease, I’m unaware of it. Perhaps that’s why you don’t hear a lot of politicians criticizing a huge increase in Alzheimer’s research.

“It’s perhaps some of the most encouraging news we’ve had on Alzheimer’s disease in several years,” Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging and the Mayo Alzheimer’s Research Center, told the Washington Post. “This is truly very, very exciting in the field.”

If the future is bright — or at least: hopeful — the present is a nightmare, as evidenced by the story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today of former Gov. Martin Schreiber and his wife, Elaine.

(Video link)

They have known each other since they were 14-year-old sweethearts. Theirs is a common story: A faithful partner carrying for a spouse who has slipped into the grasp of Alzheimer’s, never to return.

You don’t have to be alone, to be lonely, he says, exhausted from the rigor of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.

Finally, he moved her to a memory care center.

Just after Labor Day, the Schreibers returned to the Lutheran Home. In a conference call with their children a few days earlier, they had discussed the move and decided it was the right thing to do.

But on the day itself, at the moment of leave-taking, he told her that he was going to Madison, a little white lie, and then he squeezed her hand and there were tears in his eyes.

“So, what should we do today?” a member of the staff asked Elaine, gently leading her toward the memory care unit.

As he watched her go, he replayed in his mind the moment when she left their townhouse for the last time. He had turned back to see the door still open, and his voice had failed him. He could not ask her to shut it.

“It was like closing the door on our life together,” he said.

About five million people have Alzheimer’s now. By 2050, that will rise to about 14 million.

Related: When Mom Has Alzheimer’s, A Stranger Comes For Christmas (NPR)