Gene Wilder: Alzheimer’s and Our Hidden Society of Caregivers

Best known for his roles as Willy Wonka from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Dr. Frankenstein in the movie Young Frankenstein, actor Gene Wilder passed away at age 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. The actor was diagnosed with the disease three years prior, however, he and his family kept his diagnosis private until after his death. According to CNN, his nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman released a statement saying Wilder made the decision to keep his disease secret because he did not want to worry or disappoint any fans. “He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world,” said Walker-Pearlman.

Gene Wilder was survived by his wife, Karen Boyer who acted as his primary caregiver through his three year battle. Although Boyer and Wilder were married 25 years and she provided extended care to him throughout his battle, Wilder’s first wife is getting attention after his death as well. Gilda Radner, SNL regular and actress, left Wilder widowed in 1989 after her death. Media has brought attention to their reunion in the afterlife and has brushed widowed Boyer aside.

The idea of Wilder and Radner’s reunion may give fans peace of mind, but it can also be seen as insensitive to Boyer. Too often caregivers are not given the credit they deserve and the help they need. Especially when the care recipient is reaching the end of their rope, loved ones easily overlook the needs and well-being of the caregiver. What most people do not realize is that caregivers’ health can be severely compromised during and even long after a long term care event. Genworth recently surveyed caregivers asking them about their health and well-being. This is what they found:

  • 54% of caregivers experience negative feelings as a result of caregiving.
  • 43% of caregivers said the long term care event negatively affected their health and well-being.
  • 51% of caregivers worry about the lack of time for themselves and their families as a result of caregiving.
  • 44% of caregivers experienced feelings like depression and resentment.

Caregivers not only sacrifice their own well-being to provide long term care but most often times they sacrifice their financial stability as well. In the same survey from Genworth, 45% of caregivers reported a reduction in their quality of life in order to pay for their loved ones care. It was also reported that caregivers’ out of pocket expenses have seen a 20% increase since 2010.

With the caregivers of our society experiencing these negative effects of caregiving, it is important their hard work and dedication to their loved ones not go unnoticed or under appreciated. So, as fans mourn the death of actor Gene Wilder, it is heartwarming to think he will be reunited with his loved ones who have passed before him, but they must not forget the loved ones he has left behind who cared for him when he needed it most.

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