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Recognizing And Dealing With A Parent's Dementia

This program is rebroadcast from February 19, 2014.

When dementia comes. “Father of the Bride” and “Nashville” star Kimberly Williams-Paisley opens up about facing — dealing with — her mother’s dementia.

Kimberly and Ashley with their mother Lynn Williams in 2003. (Jonathan Skow / Corbis)

Kimberly and Ashley with their mother Linda Williams in 2003. (Jonathan Skow / Corbis)

When a parent hits dementia, it’s a tough passage for any family.  Every family.  Actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley had, literally, a Hollywood life.  Starred young in “Father of the Bride.”  Starred in TV’s “Nashville.”  Married to country music superstar Brad Paisley.  But when her mom, Linda, was hit at 61 with early dementia, this daughter’s family was hit like anyone else’s.  She’s written movingly about the denial and confusion and decline.  About the emotions and upheaval and, finally, acceptance.  This hour On Point:  when dementia hits home, with Kimberly Williams-Paisley.

– Tom Ashbrook


Kimberly Williams-Paisley, actor and director. (@Kimwilliamspais)

Darby Morhardt, clinical social worker, associate professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Gurney Williams, father of Kimberly Williams.

From Tom’s Reading List

Redbook: “How I Faced My Mother’s Dementia” — “Nine years ago, it was my mother’s turn for a horrifying, life-changing moment. She was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia (PPA) at age 61. It’s a degenerative brain disease, a form of dementia with no treatment or cure. Since then, I’ve watched a passionately joyful woman, a devoted mother, an engaged listener and friend deteriorate and transform into someone almost unrecognizable. It’s been agonizing to slowly lose her.”

The Guardian: Dementia care: what should housing providers offer? — “One in three people aged over 65 will die with dementia, and it is thought that more than 60% of all care home residents aged over 65 have a form of the condition. Dementia is one of the main causes of disability later in life – ahead of cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke.”

HBO: The Alzheimer’s Project — “There are currently 10 million Americans providing 8.5 billion hours of unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s disease or otherdementias, according to an estimate from the Alzheimer’s Association. Seventy percent of people with Alzheimer’s live at home, cared for by family and friends.”

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  • TFRX

    Caller Amy: “I hate to say this, but it was almost a relief” when her dementia-suffering mother passed on after years and years of struggle.

    That’s okay; we know what you mean. Others here have been through it also.

    • hennorama

      TFRX — family care providers are often unaware that respite care is available, which allows the family care provider to get a break from the massive responsibility they take on when providing care for a loved one.

      Dementia’s victims are not just the people with the actual illness. Family care providers need to care for themselves, too.

      • keltcrusader

        True, my MIL just recently passed away from Alzheimers and it was so hard to convince my FIL he needed help and some time for himself. We finally got hospice in at the end which helped immensely. Now my FIL says that while he misses his wife, that what made her “her” had been gone for so long that it is hard to be sad like when someone passes suddenly. There is a reason they call it the “long Goodbye”.
        He is finally starting to go out again and do things he enjoys and that is very good to see. People feel they have to do it all themselves, but it shouldn’t be that way and asking for help isn’t dishonoring your loved one.

        • hennorama

          keltcrusader — sorry for your loss.

          I often point to the airline pre-flight instruction, that a passenger should always put on his or her own mask before helping children, the disabled, and others, as an example of the idea that one cannot help others if one does not care for oneself first.

          Suffering in silence is not heroic, despite the widespread idea that it is.

          Glad to read that your FIL is finding some relief, and is on a path toward a more full life.

    • sofiago

      i find a gadget very usefull for noise and everything that keep us from sleeping

  • Jo Bleaux

    About 20 years ago, I helped care for my grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s for many years. For me, the mourning began when she no longer knew my name. It was striking: for all of us who had been with her throughout her illness, her funeral was in a way the end of the mourning period, but for out-of-town relatives, it was the beginning.

  • grandma432

    Thank you, very helpful show. My uncle died of this disease. Knowledge is Power.

  • Davesix6

    I lost my mom to Dementia October 2011. She weighed 74 lbs when she died.
    Fortunately her symptoms didn’t manifest till the last year of her life, but It was torture watching her go through it, especially the last months
    My mom is the strongest, kindest, most giving person I have ever known and I thank God even though she could not speak the last few weeks, she never lost the smile in her eyes.
    Thanks for this one Tom

    • technophant

      Thanks for sharing this Davesix6.

  • JS

    My Mother-in-law went through this horrible disease. She also had cancer reoccur at the time. The cards and letters to “Get Well Soon” and “Thinking/Prayeing for You” for the cancer came pouring in, but not for the Alzheimer’s. I think it because of the stigma of a “mental” illness.

    Its tough. If someone is sick with cancer its easy to say, Get well soon. But what do you say to someone who doesn’t even remember you? I think people should reach out to the person, and especially to the caregivers.

    • Beelzebub

      I am sorry about the lack of sympathetic response to your mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s. Mental health stigma is alive and well. It’s very unfortunate because there is no one immune to suffering the same misfortune.

    • kaaramel

      I don’t see the lack of cards re:Alzheimer’s as stigma, to me it seems that people don’t think you get better from Alzheimer’s, you just live with it.

  • Emily

    I’m catching up on this – but I want to say thank you for devoting a program to dementia. I did hear Ms. Williams-Paisley say it’s healing to talk about it – I think so, too. I blog about my mom’s Alzheimer’s, and reflecting on this experience and writing about it really functions as therapy for me. And I always tell my friends who are new to it to ask me questions, tell me stories. The sad part is I’ve had more lunch invitations to talk about parents with dementia than I ever would have expected.

  • http://www.louisevanaarsen.com Louise Van Aarsen

    Thanks for this recognizable and moving discussion. Kimberly’s story really hit home. Indeed the relationship changes, and one can find solace in that -only once you realize it..As I was losing my strong-willed and exceptionally capable mother to that helpless loneliness, I found healing in expressing it through songwriting, “Remember” illustrated with pictures of that journey..It brings her right back, i hope it helps others somehow.


  • technophant

    I’m worried about my own dwindling mental capacity. It’s hard to learn to adapt to reduced function while remembering doing well in school and having (in the past) a very sharp intellect. I’m 42.

  • morticia

    The absolute best book about a parent’s descent into Alzheimer’s is this frank and terrifying masterpiece: http://www.amazon.com/Death-Slow-Motion-Daughter-Alzheimers-ebook/dp/B00B72CG70/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1405469682&sr=1-4

  • Diane Vaccaro Davison

    Unfortunately, my sister and I were living in other cities, on different coasts, when our Mom began to exhibit personality changes that we just didn’t understand. It is the ‘long good-bye’. The hardest part for me was having to leave my Mom in a long-term care facility, then bring my youngest child to visit her beloved grandmother a few months later, only to realize horribly very quickly that Nana no longer recognized her younger daughter. My daughter burst into tears……At first I tried to be strong, but the visible sorrow that my daughter was feeling brought me to tears as well. A ten year old should never have to experience this type of pain, and I felt just horrible; a very bad Mother……the next day Mom was much better and eventually knew Kate again, but it would be the last time the two would be able to talk in any fashion. My daughter had special needs, so this was a very difficult situation to explain. Thanks for bringing this problem to light………

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    my Aunty
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  • Guest

    my Aunty
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  • anadmckinney

    My Uncle
    Riley got an almost new red GMC Canyon just by some parttime working online
    with a laptop. visit their website C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

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