Undying Love Alzheimer's Patients Who Continue to Emotionally Connect with Their Spouses Seem to Live Longer

Article excerpt

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

fiance.

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

meaning.

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

were dead.

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

problems.

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. …