FYI Daily

Ending Alzheimer's Journey -- in Murder-Suicide

Last updated:

April 01, 2012
Two planes heading towards white clouds

Happy anniversary, darling? A week after their 61st wedding anniversary, a prominent Washington, D.C.-area man killed his wife who had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for seven years and then shot himself. But this doesn't seem to have been the rash act of caregiver burnout; their children believe it was a longtime mutual plan of an exceedingly devoted couple. Both were 81.

Charles D. Snelling had recently headed the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. His wife, Adrienne, had written a letter three years earlier to her five children, reports The Washington Post: "As you know I have Alzheimer's. It is not a nice disease. So far I have held up pretty well. Dad and I are still having a pretty good life. There is no doubt where my sickness will end up for me.

"All of our lives, Dad and I have talked over our end of life beliefs. We are both in agreement that neither one of us wants to live after all reasonable hope for a good life is over. ."‰."‰. We have had such a great life together and with all of you."

Charles Snelling was a hands-on spousal caregiver who often paid care aides to help her travel with him from their Fogelsville, Pennsylvania, home to meetings in the capital. He brought her with him to a meeting last Feb. 14 when he realized it was Valentine's Day.

In a December, 2001, he wrote a New York Times column about his experiences as a caregiver. "Real care for a loved one with Alzheimer's cannot be delegated," he wrote. "I did not need to be told that; I felt it in my bones." He did have hired helpers about 14 hours a day, as he himself had a pacemaker and two knee replacements. "It never occurred to me for a moment that it would not be my duty and my pleasure to take care of my sweetie," he had written.

He also described his wife in the column as a "very, very sick puppy." He and a friend whose wife was also diagnosed with Alzheimer's tried to enroll their spouses in a clinical trial but were told that the women were too old and that the odds of slowing the progression of the disease were low.

Might more support have made a difference? Or did he just not want to go on without her? Snelling refused to move his wife to a senior living community that offered Alzheimer's care, as his friend eventually did. Nor did he often attend Alzheimer's support groups with the friend, who called Snelling "a very self-reliant person."

"Together they struggled greatly to manage the effects of this devastating disease," a statement provided on behalf of the family by the airports authority read. "After apparently reaching the point where he could no longer bear to see the love of his life deteriorate further, our father ended our mother's life and then took his own life as well."

Image by Flickr user Horia Varlan, used under a Creative Commons license.