They stood on the Ortega River Bridge -- young and in love. She
was tall, leggy and had soft waves of strawberry blonde hair. He
was ruggedly handsome, outgoing and a friend of her sister's
They had met only four hours earlier, but Ernest Eugene "Gene"
Padgett liked what he saw. As they stood there overlooking the
river, he stumbled through a marriage proposal. Four weeks
later, the couple took vows in a simple ceremony before a
justice of the peace.
It was 1946.
A half-century, four children and a river full of memories
later, Gene and Kathleen Padgett are still in love. They
recently renewed their wedding vows -- in a church, this time.
She wore a gown; he wore a tuxedo. Yet for this couple, the vows
of marriage -- for better or for worse -- have taken on poignant
Gene Padgett, 72, has Alzheimer's disease.
Kathleen Padgett, 75, picks out his clothing, helps him bathe,
tends to his every need and even pushes him around Wal-Mart in a
wheelchair. Some days, he is coherent. Other days, he looks
straight at his lifelong love, his wife of 50 years, and doesn't
seem to recognize her.
Their love transcends this, however.
In fact, Kathleen Padgett's undying love could be playing a
role in Gene Padgett's life span.
Alzheimer's patients who continue to emotionally connect with
their spouses seem to live longer, research at the Medical
College of Georgia suggests.
The research tracked the progress over time of 30 couples in
Georgia and South Carolina, in which one of the two suffered
from Alzheimer's disease, and a comparison group of 17 couples
in which both were well. Lore K. Wright, chairwoman of the
Department of Mental Health/-Psychiatric Nursing at the college
and author of Alzheimer's Disease and Marriage (Sage
Publications; 1993) spoke to the couples between 1987-88. Two
years later, she returned to the families for follow-up
research. Approximately one-third of the Alzheimer's patients
In earlier interviews, those patients [the ones who eventually
died] and their spouses, when answering questions about
commitment to marriage, had responded that there was no more
they could do to keep the relationship going. They spoke of
staying married because of their vows.
Most of those still living had voiced strong commitment to
keeping the relationship going. They also spoke of love and of
valuing their partner.
The severity of the illness did not appear to correlate with
whether the ill spouse died, she said. Wright believes a strong
determining factor was "the strong bond or attachment and love
from the care-giver."
Like Kathleen Padgett -- who, when asked if her husband was
handsome in his younger days, responded, "still is" -- their
intense feelings for one another kept them going.
Nationally, there are more than 4.1 million cases of
Alzheimer's disease. Seven out of 10 people with the disease
live at home and are cared for by family and friends, according
to the Alzheimer's Association.
Sadly, spouse care-givers reported diminishing satisfaction
with marriage as time elapses. Wright's next research project
will focus on having advanced-practice nurses counseling care-
givers, giving emotional support and helping them cope with
The importance of caring for care-givers is also central to the
mission of a Jacksonville group.
"The whole purpose of our chapter is to preserve the care-
giver," said Bill Gasparovic, executive director of the
Northeastern Florida Alzheimer's chapter. …