Alzheimer's Challenges

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Hudson, Wisconsin (population 11,913) is a typical Midwestern river town. In particular, Hudson is safe:  On a scale of one to 10, with one beingcaregivers, elderly help, senior assistance, senior help the lowest, Hudson's violent crime rate is two.

Hudson is where Claire and Betty Erickson grew up, married, raised their children, and prospered for 51 joyous years.  Claire was the founder of the extremely successful Freedom gas station/convenience store chain.  Over the past three years, though, Claire had been caring tenderly for Betty as she gradually slipped into the misty gloom of Alzheimer's, and where Claire shot her to death and turned the gun on himself.

The Ericksons had celebrated their 60th anniversary with their family the previous week.  Claire told his son, David, that he'd been experiencing vertigo, and that he was "tired" and "weary," and ominously because of her Alzheimer's, this:  "You know, if anything ever happens to me, your mother will have to go into a home, because she cannot take care of herself."

David, concerned, drove his parents back to Wisconsin.  The morning after their arrival, Claire and Betty were found lying in bed, dressed in their pajamas, looking "peaceful."

"I have no doubt what he did was out of love for the three of us siblings," said David Erickson. "I think he was just tired and knew her Alzheimer's situation wasn't going to get any better."

Experts disagree.  Doctor Donna Cohen, an aging studies professor, believes that caregiver stress increases the risk of homicide/suicide. "Murder-suicide," she argues, "Almost always is not an act of love. It's an act of desperation.  This is suicide and murder.''

After analyzing the circumstances of hundreds of these cases, researchers have detected a typical pattern:

  • The man kills the woman in their bedroom with a gun, something he has planned for weeks and perhaps longer.
  • The woman has Alzheimer's disease or a related illness.The man, who's been the primary caregiver, is depressed, exhausted and stressed.
  • The woman is usually killed in her sleep.
  • The man believes that he is acting mercifully. In fact, he is merely bringing an end to his own misery.

There may have been multiple opportunities to prevent the horrific Erickson deaths.  Such factors as changes in eating or sleeping and talk about feeling helpless or hopeless are signs of depression, according to Dr. Cohen.

Experts agree that suspicions demand aggressive action.  Cohen, for example, urges an adult child to confront the father directly: "Have you ever thought about suicide?"  If the answer is yes--or not an unqualified no-there should be immediate intervention--a call to a suicide crisis center or hotline, and perhaps an ambulance trip to a medical emergency room or a psychiatric center.

What's the lesson?  Dr. Cohen says, "Be aware, take the signs seriously, start talking and try to get help. You still may fail, but you will never regret trying."

--Laurence Harmon

Laurence Harmon is the blogmaster for http://www.greatplacesinc.com, a website that delivers advice, insights and answers straight to the computer screens of the Baby Boom generation, the first to be tasked with caring for their aging--and often infirm--parents, pursuing their own active lifestyles and parenting their own children.

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3 Responses

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  2. [...] Continued here:  Alzheimer's Challenges | Elder Care ABC [...]
  3. I do not agree with Dr Cohen in that this is not an act of love but one of a caregiver ending their misery! Firstly, until the Doctor is actually in the shoes of the desperate caregiver, she can not understand the pain of them nor the degree they will go to for love. Secondly, her assumption is based on one of being in the right, which implies a right and wrong decision. This is an act that for the most part is of ultimate human misery...and there are many emotions going on here, of which only the victims (both) can begin to understand.
  4. I totally agree with David " . . . until the Doctor is actually in the shoes of the desperate caregiver, she can not understand . . .". Medical professionals frequently feel entitled to pass judgment on people they barely know (or know not at all). Medical people seem so often to value only the most minimal life, disregarding quality of life. No one but those directly involved truly know the crucial factors. No one else knows the pain endured or anticipated. The murder-suicide or suicide pact issue is one I see increasing as time goes on when people feel backed into a corner that will only squeeze them harder as time goes on. Lack of real quality of life, knowing one is rather suddenly deemed useless in this society and not wishing to lose everything one has earned or built over a lifetime. It's a sad commentary on our world that a good life in our older years is as much a matter of luck as it was 100 years ago. And that luck is in short supply for many.
  5. Your Message<a href="#comment-1074" rel="nofollow">@Courtney Haynes:</a> I don't disagree with either comment to my post, but I'd like to add two of my own. First, as a law graduate and a former prosecutor, it's clear that Mr. Erickson was guilty of first degree murder in the killing of his wife. Although we may sympathize with his situation and his suffering, the criminal law would consider him a murderer. Second, there were several warning signs in this case that went unnoticed by the family. I hoped to emphasize in the article that situations in which the husband is caregiver for his wife are inherently dangerous, and that what otherwise could be considered innocent statements that he might make are cause for immediate intervention. Finally, the Erickson case was extremely troubling to me personally, having been a caregiver myself. I actually attended the funeral, hoping to get some personal closure. When I arrived back in my home town, the local gas station was in the final stages of its transformation from a Conoco to a Freedom convenience store/gas station--the brand invented by the Ericksons.
  6. [...] Alzheimer's Challenges | Elder Care ABCDoctor Donna Cohen, an aging studies professor, believes that caregiver stress increases the risk of homicide/suicide. ”Murder-suicide,” she argues, “Almost always is not an act of love. It’s an act of desperation. … First, as a law graduate and a former prosecutor, it’s clear that Mr. Erickson was guilty of first degree murder in the killing of his wife. Although we may sympathize with his situation and his suffering, the criminal law would consider him a murderer. … [...]
  7. [...] This chap created an interesting post today on Alzheimer's Challenges | Elder Care ABCHere’s a short outlineIn particular, Hudson is safe: On a scale of one to 10, with one being caregivers, elderly help, senior assistance, senior help the lowest, Hudson’s violent crime rate is two. Hudson is where Claire and Betty Erickson grew up, married, raised their children, …. Do you enjoy this blog? Is the information helpful? Then buy us a coffee or send us a tip! Choose any amount you wish, whatever you feel this blog is worth to you. Send a tip by clicking on the coffee cup below. … [...]