Geri Taylor: An Alzheimer Portrait of Courage

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Most people resist telling people that they have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. These newly diagnosed fear, with reason, that news of their illness will repel friends, and maybe family. There is tremendous stigma attached to Alzheimer’s. Information found on the Internet often focus on violent outbursts, hallucinations, personality changes and loss of self.

It is no wonder that people who suspect, or even know, they have this disease try to hide it from friends, co-workers and their own families for as long as possible.   Which is why Geri Taylor’s story is so extraordinary.

She was 69 and working as a health care executive when she was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. She decided to retire, and sought counsel from a therapist. The therapist advised her not to tell anyone. Geri, trying to figure out how to live as full a life as possible, rejected that advise, intuitively knowing that a full life would not possible for her without the emotional support and physical assistance of others.

NR Kleinfield was introduced to Geri through the Alzheimer’s Association. He has been a reporter for The New York Times for over 30 years, and won a shared Pulitzer for his article “Portraits of Grief” after 9/11. Kleinfield spent 20 months with Geri and her family. The results of this collaboration were published today in The New York Times in a special supplement. It is long, and takes time to read. If you look at some of the hundreds of comments, poignant and honest, you will need more time.

However, it is time well spent. Many people will find solace and inspiration in the bravery of this woman.  She is setting an example of how to embrace life, celebrate the people and things she loves, and adapt in the face of diminishing cognition. Many people assume that Alzheimer’s robs the patient of awareness of increasing disability.  Geri’s actions eloquently tell us that patients are only too aware of their shortcomings; that much can be done to diminish their isolation and to help patients create a meaningful life after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. I enthusiastically recommend this article. I thank Geri Taylor and her family for their courage and generosity in sharing their experiences, and NR Kleinfield for his stunningly beautiful writing.

 

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