Children of Alzheimer’s patients fear future diagnosis

In the face of recurring fear, “part of it is accepting a certain helplessness and lack of control,” said Dr. Timothy Scarella, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “That’s especially true with Alzheimer’s disease: you might get it no matter how hard you try.” Worrying about it in the meantime can prevent a person from enjoying their healthy years.

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

When a fear causes significant distress or interferes with daily life, professional advice may be needed. When Ms. Passarela, the mental health counsellor, sees clients convinced they have the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, she challenges that thought: What evidence do you have that the thought is true? What proof do you have that this is not true?

Through therapy, Ms. Barber, the software consulting manager in Oregon, learned tools to manage her worries. Sometimes she walks around 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 Ms. Perez is anxious, she says the Rosary and calm settles within her. Recently, she realized that alongside the pain that accompanied her mother’s illness, there were unexpected gifts. Whatever happens in the future, she is healthier now, thanks to the lifestyle changes her mother – and her mother’s illness – inspired, Ms Perez said. “Even though she’s not there mentally, she still helps me.”


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