Children of Alzheimer’s patients fear a future diagnosis

When dealing with recurring fears, “part of it is accepting a certain powerlessness and lack of control,” says Dr. Timothy Scarella, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “That’s especially true for Alzheimer’s disease. You could get this despite your best efforts.” Worrying about it in the meantime can take a person’s enjoyment from their healthy years.

As with many other types of worry, psychologists recommend a basic practice of mindfulness. Many activities qualify: meditation, prayer, movement such as yoga or qigong, or even walking or hiking – anything that encourages slowing down and observing the present moment, without judgment or shame.

When a fear causes a lot of distress or disrupts daily life, professional guidance may be needed. When Ms. Passarela, the psychiatrist, sees clients who are convinced they have Alzheimer’s symptoms, she challenges that thought: What evidence do you have that the thought is true? What proof do you have that it’s not true?

Through therapy, Ms. Barber, the Oregon software consultancy manager, has learned tools to manage her concerns. Sometimes she takes a walk through her neighborhood. If the thoughts persist, she writes them down to acknowledge what she is experiencing. Then she pushes the paper aside, as a physical sign that she is moving on.

When Mrs. Perez is concerned, she prays the rosary and a calm comes over her. Recently, she realized that in addition to the pain associated with her mother’s illness, there were unexpected gifts. Whatever happens in the future, she’s healthier now, thanks to lifestyle changes that inspired her mother — and her mother’s illness, Ms Perez said. “Even if she’s not here mentally, she’s still helping me.”


Dawn MacKeen is a reporter based in Los Angeles and the author of “The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey,” which chronicles her grandfather’s survival of the Armenian Genocide.

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