Side profile close-up of former GOP presidential candidate Pat Robertson.
Rev. Pat Robertson may have been premature in calling Alzheimer's disease “a kind of death.” (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Paparazzo Presents/Wikipedia)

Experts agree that people with Alzheimer’s disease need all the loving support they can get. However, as Christian Broadcasting Network chairman Rev. Pat Robertson told “700 Club” viewers Tuesday, divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s is justifiable. He went on to say he wouldn’t “put a guilt trip” on the non-Alzheimer’s spouse, because the disease is “a kind of death.”

Outrage within the Alzheimer’s community

Pat Robertson’s remarks about divorce and Alzheimer’s disease were prompted by a question from a “700 Club” viewer who asked what advice he should give a friend who had been seeing another woman since his wife was diagnosed with the disease.

“I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her,” Robertson said.

Understandably, Robertson’s sentiment was not well-received by the medical community.

“To condone abandoning one’s spouse in the throes of this mind-robbing illness is absurd,” said Dr. Amanda Smith of the University of South Florida Health Alzheimer’s Center in Tampa. “While Alzheimer’s certainly affects the dynamic of relationships, marriage vows are taken in sickness and in health.”

A friend, indeed

According to Alzheimer’s Association data, there are an estimated 5.4 million reported cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. The figure is expected to skyrocket as Baby Boomers reach their golden years. Approximately 80 percent of Alzheimer’s patients live in and are cared for at home.

As the Rev. A.D. Baxter of the University of Tennessee’s Cole Neuroscience Center noted, care from a loved one cannot be replaced.

“When being cared for by a spouse, the love of that spouse is often what enables a person with Alzheimer’s disease to continue on and not feel abandoned,” said Baxter. “Many believe a true friend does not abandon in the time of need.”

Where is the love?

Inevitably, relationships involving the Alzheimer’s patient will be strained, as the demands of care can tax the best caregivers. In the event that the caregiver is a spouse, the loss of intimacy and romance can be difficult to overcome. However, with new technologies for early diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease in development, there is hope, however small. That alone may be enough to help sufferers and their caregivers hold on and block out the bleating, hypocritical televangelists.

Pat Robertson’s remarks on Alzheimer’s and divorce


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