THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Through the Iona support group I learned of Iona’s Wellness
and Arts Center, which Zandra joined on a part-time basis in
December 2014 in an effort to break out of her growing isolation.
She connected well with the staff and other center participants.
We were gradually increasing her hours when she had a serious
wandering episode last April, walking from Bethesda to Silver
Spring via the Capital Crescent Bike Trail. After a 911 call, Zandra
was found safe but oblivious.
It was apparent I could no longer leave her alone, and I knew
I could not care for her at home—even with the help of health
care professionals. Through Iona, I contacted Arden Courts in
Kensington, Maryland. This is a 64-unit facility catering exclu-
sively to dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Zandra is doing
well there. She is unafraid and oblivious to the world that she has
lost—the only mercy Alzheimer’s has granted her. Zandra is not
the first FSO to live out her life at Arden Courts, nor will she be
Some Final Thoughts
Helping Zandra manage her descent into Alzheimer’s is the
hardest emotional challenge I have faced. It is much harder
than our son Sam’s autism. There, we reaped accomplishment.
Alzheimer’s, by contrast, is an exercise in achieving a controlled
crash. Drawing on the support of friends and support groups is
essential to recognize and manage the inevitable stress buildup.
Short breaks for respite are very helpful if they can be secured.
Alzheimer’s onset is exceedingly hard to detect. I can only
recommend that if you or others notice memory loss, mood
change or the beginning of mental rigidity, consult a neurolo-
gist. There are some useful precautionary steps you can take
regardless of whether Alzheimer’s ever becomes a concern.
These include: have a joint account—insurance checks will
come to the policy holder; take out long-term care insurance;
secure a power of attorney; have a will, and update it frequently;
have a medical directive. If you get an Alzheimer’s diagnosis
and have not taken these steps, do so immediately before legal
competency becomes an issue. Also consult a lawyer to deter-
mine if you need to set up a special needs trust for the benefit of
the Alzheimer’s patient—you can’t guarantee you’ll die last.
Zandra has made a remarkably smooth adjustment. I think
it helps that her form of Alzheimer’s has caused her to steadily
withdraw into herself, although her steady loss of connection
to me is painful. She is always comfortable in my presence
when I visit, but there are now times when I am not at all sure
she knows who I am, and I know the day is coming when her
memory of me is gone.