Sandra Day O'Connor - A Lesson in Making Decisions Related to Alzheimer's Disease

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • A recent profile about retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor shocked me. She was quoted as saying that the reason she left the Supreme Court was to spend time with her husband, John, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Her statement made me think about the changes that caring for a loved one often require in our professional lives.

    Many workplaces are set up for the traditional 9-5 routine, but if you are in a leadership position, you routinely work much longer than the published hours. In my previous position, I would spend at least 50 hours a week (and often more) dealing with the issues that my job would throw at me. Travel was a regular part of my schedule, taking me across the state and the country. I rarely got out of the office for lunch, much less doctor’s appointments or personal needs.

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    And even if you are in a support role in your organization, you may not have the support of your boss or the organizational flexibility to deal with issues related to caregiving. These issues (especially as it relates to Alzheimer’s) may mean that you have to leave at a moment’s notice. Too many of these and your boss may wonder if you are committed to the company and to your job.

    Fast forward to September 2005 when Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. At that time I was no longer working in the organization mentioned above and instead was a graduate assistant at the university that I’m attending. Still, I knew at some point I would need to take on a new position in order to pay the bills. And that’s when I started thinking about what I had previously done for work – and what my limitations would need to be for a future employer. I realized that my priorities had shifted, due to Mom’s illness and that I needed to have the flexibility to deal with her issues as they came up. A high-powered job was not going to allow me to drop everything and run over to the nursing home to talk Mom into wearing her oxygen when she was hallucinating that she saw a television report that wearing oxygen was dangerous. And a high-powered job on top of the demands of caregiving was probably going to lead to additional stress for me, which could have severe consequences to my own health.

    In interviewing with a potential employer (which is located in another city), I laid my cards on the table. I was Mom’s caregiver and that needed to be my primary concern at this point in time. Fortunately, the president was willing to work with me on this issue, even allowing me to work from home and limiting travel to an easy distance so I can make it back home in case of an emergency with Mom. I’m working part-time for the company, again to facilitate Mom’s issues and to continue working on my doctorate. I supplement my income by doing freelance writing, which allows me to continue to have a flexible schedule.

    Nobody said that caregiving is easy. To do it well may mean looking at your own lifestyle and determining what is right for you and your loved one. Sandra Day O'Connor made a decision that shocked the nation but was right for her and her husband. The same holds true for me and Mom. A high-powered job currently can’t be on my radar screen (although in the future, that may be an option). Instead, I have found that identifying ways to make a living as well as keep a flexible schedule have enabled me to be with Mom, pay the bills, continue the doctorate, and manage my stress level.


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    For link to story about Sandra Day O’Connor:,8599,1540702,00.html


    For a link the message board to discuss what changes you’ve made professionally due to caregiving:




Published On: February 18, 2007