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The David Hyde Pierce Interview (Page 2 of 2)

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An Interview with David Hyde Pierce

 

DHP:  Along with all of the other responsibilities of caregiving with Alzheimer’s or any other dementia disorder, the person being taken care of can’t be responsible for themselves, so they do things like wondering away, or leaving something on the stove and burning the house down, or they are unable to communicate what might be a very simple ailment and so you don’t see it until it becomes a chronic condition. So, added to all of the burdens on the caregiver, you almost have to think for and intuit for the person you are taking care of because they may do themselves harm inadvertently.

GB:  What would you say to a caregiver who is coping with the decision as whether it is time to take the keys away?  How do you take the keys away?

DHP:  Well, I’ll tell you how we did it with my dad.  He was in an early stage of dementia when we realized he had just enough scrapes on the car that we had not witnessed. We thought we were at the point that his independence had to become secondary to his and other people’s safety.

We had a family meeting. We knew we needed to take the keys away. What we ended up doing was we talked to his heart doctor, who had been a real confidant, and he suggested that he handle it. We brought Dad in and my brother and I went with him.  My dad was sitting on the examining table and the doctor said, “Well, George, you have a touch of Alzheimer’s, so I think it’s going to be better if you don’t drive.” Dad gave him the keys. That did a bunch of things. First of all, it was sort of a bogus diagnosis, but it was an effective diagnosis because, by using the phrase “a touch of Alzheimer’s,” it took the curse off of it; especially at that point in my dad’s decline. He knew something was up and it somehow didn’t have the same impact as saying “You have Alzheimer’s disease” would.

It was “just a touch,” just enough that we probably should be cautious. I cannot
praise this doctor enough because he knew my dad so well; that he knew Dad would respond to that. Afterwards, Dad confessed that he was so relieved. He didn’t want to have to give up driving, but every time he got behind the wheel of the car, he was petrified.

Dad had a combination of what’s called “vascular dementia” caused by a stroke after heart surgery, so there were already some peripheral vision problems that were occurring, as well as the kind of rational and getting lost. So, I would only add that with someone else in that situation, the doctor might have said the same thing and he might have gotten a very different response, because every case is different.

GB:  What advice do you have for family caregivers?

DHP:   Especially with Alzheimer’s, the first thing is that if you haven’t gotten in touch with the Alzheimer’s Association in your area, do it. By the time I joined, I was no longer in the position of having someone who was a family member with the disease, but you have the scars, you have the emotional wounds and the feeling of loss. Even for me, the Alzheimer’s Association has been an incredible source of strength, healing, and determination.  But for someone who is actually going through it, and I have recommended it to many of my friends who are just starting out on this difficult path, that just to have someone to talk to, just to have a support group, and just to have a support group for the person with Alzheimer’s, to have references, to have people who have been through this—that’s the great thing about the Association because virtually everyone who is there is there because they have seen this first-hand, and we’re all just determined to wipe it out in our lifetime.

 

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