One detail stands out in the sad news about the death of "Dallas" actor Larry Hagman from throat cancer: He's survived by his wife of 60 years, Maj, who has Alzheimer's disease. Celebrities face Alzheimer's just like the rest of us, of course. And sometimes, their loved ones outlive them.
It's not a situation most stressed caregivers like to think about. After all, we think of the person with dementia as the sick one. But the reality is that many caregivers do fall sick, especially those with chronic diseases themselves or spouses or siblings who are themselves in their 70s or 80s. Caregiving stress itself raises the risk of depression and dementia. In a 2005 study, three-fifths of caregivers reported being in poor or fair health, having one or more chronic conditions or a disability, compared with one third of non-caregivers.
Add to this that it's hard to know how long someone with dementia will live after symptoms appear. Many factors influence Alzheimer's longevity.
Some questions worth preparing for:
Will the living situation be affected?
In Hagman's case, in 2011, he'd arranged for his wife to live nearby with full-time nursing care. (She was diagnosed in 2008.) But if you're at at-home caregiver, it's something to think about. You may not have cancer or be ill, but what if you were hit by the proverbial bus? Do you have a Plan B for your loved one's care?
Who will become the primary caregiver?
Family members have much to do when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. A succession plan for caregiving is rarely in the list of immediate concerns, but worth considering as time goes on. Who will manage finances, visit someone in a continuing care community, communicate with doctors, and so on?
Have you made financial arrangements?
Every caregiver should make sure he or she has an up-to-date will that reflects the Alzheimer's situation and provides instruction for financial upkeep. It's worth consulting an attorney about the specific situation of caregiving.
What should the person with Alzheimer's be told of the death?
Advance practice nurse and Alzheimer's expert Geri Hall says that the conventional thinking is that every patient has a right to know. See more of her advice on how to tell an Alzheimer's patient about a death in the family.
Are you cherishing the moments you have, even in the difficult fog of Alzheimer's?
One more tidbit worth noting in Hagman's obituary (this in the Los Angeles Times: The longtime Malibu, California, resident used to fly a flag from the deck of his oceanfront home that said “Vita Celebratio Est” — “Life is a celebration.”