Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia cost the nation about $200 billion a year. The Alzheimer’s Association projects that will rise sixfold by 2050 as the population ages and deaths from other causes, like cancer and heart disease, fall sharply.
Caring for Alzheimer’s patients would be twice as expensive if it weren’t for billions of hours of unpaid labor by people like Diane Bradshaw.
When Diane, a Methodist minister, met Arnold Bradshaw, an insurance agent, they were both widowed and a few years away from retirement. Eight years later, Arnold started acting strangely. It turned out that he had Alzheimer’s. Diane spent the next six years caring for him as it worsened.
Though the Veterans Administration would pay for Arnold’s care at a hospital, Diane – and Arnold -- did not want him to stay there. Even after he was repeatedly re-admitted for serious health troubles, including broken hips, infections and a heart attack, she insisted on finding a way to bring him back home.
Bradshaw, 79, a resident of Clay, N.Y., kept a journal and, the year after her husband died, turned their story into a self-published book, “I Am Arnold.” Shortly before marrying for the third time, she spoke to Bloomberg.com’s Ben Steverman about the challenges of getting Arnold the best care possible. Edited excerpts:
Diane Bradshaw: I met Arnold in 1995. We married in 1996. About eight years later he was having a lot of trouble putting on his clothes in the morning. He’d come out with his shirt on his head and his pants on backwards. I took him to the Veterans Affairs hospital because he had a service-connected injury from World War II -- he got shot as they were landing in Algiers during the Algeria-French Morocco campaign and lost a kidney. The doctor tested him for Alzheimer's and he did not do well on the test at all.
In July 2005, Arnold was admitted to the "transitional care unit" at the VA hospital. His medicine wasn't agreeing with him and we had to get that sorted out. I wanted to bring him home so badly, but he was so confrontational then. I had black-and-blue marks all over me from where he was punching and hitting. After one week there, one of the other patients pushed him and he fell and broke his hip. As soon as Arnold was up walking with a walker, I would bring him home on day trips.
Later in 2005, he kept begging and begging to stay at home, so eventually I brought him there for good. Nobody told me anything that he was entitled to. You need to go to the social worker, but my social worker was not too helpful. I bought my own first lift, to help him get up from a sitting to standing position, so I could wheel him into the bathroom and kitchen. It cost me $3,500. I paid over $1,000 to get a ramp put in. I hired nurses to help. I had rugs taken up and floors done so I could wheel the wheelchair and lift around the house. We're talking more than $10,000.
I also paid for 14 hours a week of nursing care on my own. My daughter and I would take one day a week and just go off and have fun somewhere. That was excellent. I was 16 years younger than Arnold. I could not have done this if I was his age -- he died at 93 -- unless I was in terrific health.
Alzheimer's is different in every person. They told me my husband didn't have the usual kind at all. Some days he would have an [imaginary] companion, a person he'd talk to all day. Other days he'd laugh and smile and be content all day. He’d tell me the names of his Mom, Dad, first wife and all of his children, and he even remembered me.
When Arnold had a heart attack, four VA staff people came to talk to me about putting him on "comfort care" right at that moment. It meant he would have no more shots and no more surgery. If he didn't want to eat, they wouldn't ask him or try to tempt him. About six different times they asked me to put him on comfort care and every time, I said, "No, no, no, absolutely not." He loved to eat and he loved to joke. He was Arnold. I didn't want to take that away from him.
He died in 2010. When he stopped eating and stopped drinking all but the tiniest bit, the doctor suggested putting in a thing to feed him through his stomach. Arnold always said, "When I'm not able to eat anymore, I don't want anything for my stomach." He said, "Please do what I ask of you," and I did. I moved his bed into the living room and stayed with him night and day for three days. He just passed gently and quietly away at home. I had set it up with the funeral home, so Arnold didn’t have to go through the indignity of going to hospital.
I was really off the wall [with grief] for two solid years after Arnold passed away. I thank God for my church and for my daughter, who was living in the house with me.
Believe it or not, I'm getting married. I'm marrying a widower. He's 83. I'm 79. He lost his wife three years ago, the same as I lost my husband.