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Linda Dano Speaks Up for Alzheimer's Caregivers

Posted Aug 24 2008 1:49pm
LINDA DANO: When my father first started to get older and cranky, I wrote it off as a John Wayne-type not liking getting older, because that would have been like my father, to be really annoyed that he couldn't remember or that he was tired, or whatever it was.

ANNOUNCER: Linda Dano is a daytime TV actress and a talk show host in New York City, three thousand miles from where her parents lived in California. Her dad, Ted Wildermuth, wasn't just frustrated and irritable. He had Alzheimer's disease. But Linda didn't know that.

LINDA DANO: My mother never, ever told me that he was breaking up the house, that he would wander off and no one could find him, and some, some neighbor would bring him home. She never told me that he got stuck in the car once because he didn't know how to get home, and a policeman brought him home. None of that. So I wasn't privy to any of that.

ANNOUNCER: But something else was going on, too: Denial.

LINDA DANO: You just — you can't bear it. It's too hard to bear, and you just don't want to. So your mother doesn't tell you. You pretend it's not happening, and, maybe Saturday morning you'll wake up and everything will be fine again. I mean, I don't know what we do, but we do it.

ANNOUNCER: When it became clear her mom and dad needed help, Linda became proactive, deciding to move her parents to New York City, to live with her and her husband, Frank. It couldn't have gone worse.

LINDA DANO: You know, it was going to be a great life. My mother and dad were going to be with me, and we were going to take care of them, and none of that happened. I mean, it happened, but not like I planned it at all. My father got on that plane, and when he got to my apartment that day with Frank and my mother, he knew me. He called me by name. He hugged and kissed me. And four days later my father never called me by name again.

He just was terrified. He didn't know where he was. His agitation got so much more severe. In four days he destroyed the apartment. He tried to harm my mother. I mean, he did not know what he was doing, and he was so afraid.

ANNOUNCER: Linda's father was in late-stage Alzheimer's, but remarkably, he still had not been diagnosed. He fell, and Linda took him to an emergency room. No bones were broken, but her father was placed in the psych ward.

LINDA DANO: And at one point, after about two and a half weeks, my father chose not to eat. He wasn't eating. I couldn't get him to eat. And he was just comatose the whole time he was there. He wouldn't respond. He didn't talk to me. He didn't talk to my mother. And I was told that I had to give him a feeding tube. And I did.

ANNOUNCER: Linda then asked an expert in geriatrics from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine to see her father.

LINDA DANO: And he turned to me after he'd been with my father for five minutes and he said, "Linda, your father has Alzheimer's." And I — "Okay. All right. What is that?" I had no idea. I said, "Is that like a fancy name for senility?" And he said, "No. It's dementia." And he explained what it is and what happens, and he named all my father's symptoms.

ANNOUNCER: Linda's dad was placed in a nursing home, where he died three and a half years later. Helping care for him while pressing on with her career took a toll.

LINDA DANO: And it almost took care of me. I mean, I just — I felt myself sinking every day. A little more every day. And I was working. I was on "Another World," and I was playing the flamboyant Felicia Gallant, and no one knew. I just kept getting a little heavier every week. I was just eating anything I could find. And I was just living this kind of — two lives, really.

ANNOUNCER: A pharmaceutical company learned of Linda's story, and asked her to help other families in similar situations.

LINDA DANO: I thought about it a lot. "Should I do this? Would I be able to help? Would it make a difference if I spoke about my father and what we went through?" And then I thought, "Maybe it would. Maybe. Maybe it would." I mean, my story is probably so similar, and now I find out it's like everybody's story. Everybody does what I did. And everybody feels what I felt.

ANNOUNCER: Now Linda talks about her experiences in interviews. She answers email and speaks with caregivers by phone. She works with groups, including the National Family Caregivers Association, which provides resources for families dealing with Alzheimer's disease.

LINDA DANO: I think it's a big help that they see me on television. You see, it's not supposed to happen to people like me. It's not. And it does. It happens to everybody.

ANNOUNCER: And what about Linda's father? Linda thinks he's OK with her decision to use his story in trying to get the word out, about early Alzheimer's awareness.

LINDA DANO: I think that my father knows that we went down this road together for me to do exactly what I'm doing. It took me a while to figure that out. And through certain things, I've been made to feel that my father is very much in favor of me helping families in his name, and I believe now, through all of it, that my father is very proud of me and proud of the work I'm doing. I think so.

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