Barry Petersen, a multiple Emmy-Award winner who works for CBS News and has covered wars and events that have shaped the world, has been facing his own private war with Alzheimer’s as a spousal caregiver. He is the author of Jan’s Story, a brutally honest memoir about his daily life with his once vibrant, but still beautiful wife who has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I interviewed Petersen on my radio show, Turn On Your Inner Light, asking some tough questions which he openly answered revealing the gamut of his feelings: overworked, angry, guilty and worthy of new love. To hear the full interview click here.
Petersen confessed off the air that my questions were different from other interviewers on his book tour. This is because I had two parents with Alzheimer’s, so I know the subject matter viscerally and intellectually. However their disease manifested when they were seniors. While there is no right time to get Alzheimer’s, for Peterson and so many others whose nearest and dearest get Alzheimer’s at a younger age, like 55 (Jan Petersen) all the way down to 30 (a mother in Australia), there is a different kind of suffering. The patient looks so young and robust, but then the disease works its own chaos. It is almost difficult to accept because of this contradiction. Can you imagine Alzheimer’s at age 30?
Optimism, resiliency, alternative medicine and drugs – nothing halted the aggressive course of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Petersen’s loss of his companion, confidante and lover hurled him into the abyss of chronic stress which can trigger depression, illness and cardiovascular disease. First, he hired a professional caregiver; however, ultimately, he placed Jan in a home when her disease became too overwhelming to handle without a staff.
Petersen felt lonely and confused. He was married, but Jan wasn’t there physically, mentally or emotionally. Jan’s story concludes with Mary entering Petersen’s life – the life of a legally married man. He finds love with the “other woman” and they both visit Jan in the assisted living to make sure that she is well-taken care of. Some of his family and friends have accepted his situation while others have criticized his new relationship.
Like a good journalist, Petersen raises interesting questions and opens up the dialogue for caregiving spouses. He provides insight into the beneficial role of a support group during a time when a spouse feels alienated from humanity because of Alzheimer’s disease.
Clearly, Petersen demonstrates that there is life after Alzheimer’s – bittersweet. Having served as a foreign correspondent in Iraq, Bosnia, covered Daniel Perl’s brutal execution and a Tsunami, the reader gets the feeling that he juxtaposes all these dangerous assignments to his wife’s Alzheimer’s disease to show that nothing in his work even came close to preparing him for his personal Tsunami. Yet, love might conquer all.
For more information on caregiving read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show