Alzheimer's disease afflicts some 24 million people worldwide and is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. The enigmatic memory disorder will eventually rob the minds of one out of eight baby boomers. Leeza Gibbons is intimately aware of the devastating toll Alzheimer’s inflicts on its victims and their families -- both her mother and grandmother succumbed to the debilitating disease. In their honor, the former Entertainment Tonight host and Dancing With the Stars contestant co-founded Leeza’s Place in 2003. The charity organization is dedicated to educating and empowering patients and caregivers at eight support centers throughout the country.
HealthCentral correspondent Kim Lachance Shandrow, whose grandfather also suffered from Alzheimer’s, recently caught up with Leeza to discuss how caregivers can cope with the emotional rigors of nurturing loved ones who fade away more each day.
Can you describe your initial reaction to your mother's diagnosis? What words of comfort and reassurance could you offer those who have recently learned of their loved ones' diagnoses?
Even though we had seen my grandmother decline and eventually disappear from Alzheimer’s disease, when it was my mother’s turn to learn the shock that her fate would be the same, we were still in disbelief. Denial initially seems like a much safer place. I spent a good deal of energy trying to find answers and solutions. But no amount of time, commitment, money or resources could reveal the cures or therapies that I was looking for. I often tell people who receive this devastating news to be patient with themselves and with their loved one. I think flexibility and forgiveness can become your constant companions during this process, with an awareness and recognition that you must join your loved one in their new world, for they can no longer keep up with yours. The sooner the family “names and claims” the disease, the sooner the healing and support can begin. I find many times there is guilt and regret over things said and actions taken which could have been avoided if there had just been an awareness of what was really going on.