Geriatrician Tells “Washington Post” about FTD Caregiving Responsibilities

Young carer walking with the elderly woman in the park

The Washington Post profiled a geriatrician who chronicled her journey of caring for her husband, who had FTD, and her mother with dementia amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Rebecca Elon was featured in a Washington Post article published May 17, detailing the past year of her life as a “family caregiver, geriatrician, and policy expert specializing in long-term care.” During the pandemic, Elon, 66, assumed the full-time caregiver role for her husband and mother, both of whom were experiencing different levels of neurological degeneration and cognitive decline. Her husband, William Henry Adler III — former chief of clinical immunology research at the National Institute on Aging — was diagnosed with FTD with motor neuron disease in 2017; he died in February of this year.

In January 2020, Elon enrolled Adler into hospice and was on her way to arranging to move him to an assisted-living center. When the pandemic was in full effect, Elon was unable to retain the additional care services she needed for her husband.

“I lost 20 pounds in four months. It was incredibly demanding work, caring for him,” she shared in the article. “In medicine, we often look at people who are profoundly impaired and ask, ‘What kind of quality of life is that?’ But even though Bill was so profoundly impaired, he still had a strong will to live and retained the capacity for joy and interaction.”

At the same time, she began to care for her elderly mother with dementia while also grieving the death of her sister. Elon has to navigate her mother’s care while also going through the grieving process with her family.

“The dogma with people with dementia is you just stop talking about death because they can’t process it,” Elon said in the article. “But I think that if you repeat what’s happened over and over and you put it in context and you give them time, they can grieve and start to recover.”

Read the full Washington Post article here.

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