Gene Wilder’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease in his final years has been written about in painful detail by his widow, Karen Wilder, in a heartfelt essay exclusive to ABC News.
The “Young Frankenstein” star died last year at 83, leaving his wife of 20 years to make sense of the effects Alzheimer’s disease had on their family.
The essay was the result of her grief and search for closure, detailing what it was like caring for her husband towards the end and honoring the caretakers who have to face the disease every day, The Hollywood Reporter noted.
“I never pictured myself marrying a movie star,” said the essay published by ABC News. “I also never saw myself spending years of my life taking care of one. But I’ve done both. Love was the reason for the first. Alzheimer’s disease, the second.”
Karen Wilder recalled the series of events that led her to notice that something was wrong with her husband.
“The first signs of trouble were small,” she noted.
“Always the kindest, most tender man (if a fly landed on him, he waited for the fly to leave), suddenly I saw Gene lashing out at our grandson. His perception of objects and their distance from him became so faulty that on a bike ride together, he thought we were going to crash into some trees many feet away from us.”
After testing positive for Alzheimer’s, Wilder’s condition continued to deteriorate over six years and, while it was hard for Karen Wilder to see her husband’s health disintegrate, she said the illness also destroyed their family.
“But there’s another particularly cruel aspect to the disease of Alzheimer’s, because in addition to destroying – piece by piece – the one who’s stricken with it, it ravages the life of the person caring for its victims. In our case, I was that person,” she said.
Karen Wilder was prompted to reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association for help, an organization that helped her learn more about the illness and its sobering statistics.
Most alarmingly for Karen Wilder was a study published by Stanford Medicine, which found that Alzheimer's caregivers have a 63 percent higher mortality rate than non-caregivers, with around 40 percent of Alzheimer's caregivers dying from stress-related disorders before the patient’s death.
In light of this, Karen Wilder said she had an obligation to help spread awareness on Alzheimer’s in hope that others may eventually be spared the “experience that killed Gene” and could have killed her, too.
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