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Alzheimer’s long good-bye

Reviewed by Sandy Bainbridge

Renowned international CBS correspondent Barry Peterson and his journalist wife, Jan Chorlton, covered wars, celebrities and natural disasters. As reporters they traveled the globe and wrote objectively about what they witnessed and who they met along the way. Jan’ story, however, is closer to home and deeply personal. This is Barry’s story about the war on early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which struck his beloved Jan at age 55. There is no winning such a war.

The subtitle tells it all: “Love Lost to the long good-bye of Alzheimer’s.” With Early Onset Alzheimer’s, the progression of deterioration is swift. Before a spouse can grasp the reality of what lies ahead, the evidence becomes shockingly clear: She is lost, her mind is elsewhere and Barry is left out and left behind.

Imagine the person you know best in the world, who can’t remember your name or even who you are. In just a few years, you are no longer a couple but just a one-sided conversation that means nothing to your loved one. Jan is pleasant to all and her caregivers adore her, but Barry is an outsider.

The journalist takes over as Barry describes the decisions he is forced to make, the criticism he endures, the depression that strikes him down and the process of finding the appropriate facility for Jan to live out her days. He vowed to stay with her “through sickness and health … till death us do part.” How is that possible or even tolerable for a healthy, intellectual man? The questions Barry raises are tough and he tries to confront them honestly. What he learns is shared intelligently and sensitively in “Jan’s Story.”

Shortly after I began reading the book, I realized I had once known this woman. Jan and I had been sorority sisters at the University of Washington. The last time I saw her, she was a newscaster on a Seattle television station. That was in 1980. Coincidentally, I had been volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association after my own mother had been diagnosed with late-onset Alzheimer’s.

“Jan’s Story” is essential reading for all of us whether or not we know anyone afflicted by the disease. The lessons in human behavior, compassion and personal strength are of infinite value. In many ways the book could be titled, “Barry’s Story,” for it is his first-hand account of coping with insurmountable challenges.

I now devote my time to educating as many people as I can reach through the Colorado Alzheimer’s Association and the Summit County Caregiver and Memory Loss Support Group. Please join me for a group discussion of this important book on National Alzheimer’s Day, September 21st, 10:00am at The Next Page Bookstore in Frisco, 668-9291.


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