Alzheimer’s more complicated than 700 Club soundbite

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TV evangelist Pat Robertson’s comments about Alzheimer’s riled up thousands of people of Twitter Thursday.

Their comments reflected all sides of the issue, but missing from the conversation was the perspective from a medical professional who has worked with Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

In an interview with the Daily Dot, Dr. Richard Powers, chairman of the medical advisory board for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and a geriatric psychiatrist, wished that Robertson took more than a few minutes to address Alzheimer’s and divorcing a spouse with the disease.

“I might question his wisdom of getting into a complicated issue that we could probably sit and talk about for an hour and a half and never come to a final, happy, resolution,” Powers said. “This is not a sound bite subject. It’s better to not try to address terribly complicated issues with sound bite approaches.”

Near the end of Tuesday’s “The 700 Club,” Robertson answered a question about whether it was OK for a man to divorce his wife who has lived with Alzheimer’s.

The answer was basically a complicated yes, because Alzheimer’s was a “kind of death,” Robertson said on the program. (The comment is made at about the 51:00 minute mark)

According to Powers, the issue of Alzheimer’s and whether a caregiver (a loved one, usually a spouse, who takes care of a disabled individual) should leave a spouse with the disease is similar to eating dinner by oneself, day after day.

“It isn’t much fun and it is kinda uncomfortable,” Powers said. “Think of what it would be like to have a life that was dominated by that kind of loneliness because you don’t have this person.”

Over his 22 year career as a psychologist and neuro-pathologist, Powers has worked with thousands of Alzheimer’s patients, spouses, and preachers on the issue of separating from a spouse in need.

In the end, it’s a case-by-case basis that is often difficult to discuss, Powers said.

“In 20 years of clinical practice, I’ve never encouraged somebody to divorce their wife,” Power said. “On the other hand, if somebody comes to me and says, ‘I just can’t stand this anymore. I’ve got somebody else and I’m going to keep being a caregiver, but they want to marry me and I’m going to get a divorce,’ I don’t judge that. I don’t agree with it, don’t disagree with it, don’t judge it.”

Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that can cause memory, thinking, and behavior problems, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease worsens over time and there is no cure.

More than 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and of those, 5.2 million are 65 and over, according to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Despite some of the controversial statements Robertson has made in the past, Powers believes that the reverend meant well, in this instance.

“He was probably trying to do good by doing it,” Powers said. “We’ve all been there. You try to do good but then you end up muddling it. You wind up not getting what you wanted.”

Image credit italolemus

Fernando Alfonso III

Fernando Alfonso III

Fernando Alfonso III served as an early Reddit and 4chan reporter and the Daily Dot’s first art director until 2016. He’s gone on to report at Lexington’s Herald-Leader and at the Houston Chronicle.