Glenn and Gail Matthews were happily married for 54 years. They built a business together, raised two grown sons, and lived in a home in rural New Hampshire that was built and designed by Glenn. In 2008, everything changed.
“We were in the airport,” Gail remembers. “Glenn went to the men’s room and got lost on the way back. I knew then that something was wrong.” At age 71, Glenn was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and Gail became his primary caregiver until he passed away in 2013. She watched him change from a vibrant, well-read exercise buff to someone who couldn’t speak in his final days. “He used to be the person that everyone went to for answers. He was so full of life,” says Gail, now age 75. “All of that was taken away from him.”
Glenn wanted to help others learn about the disease, so he encouraged Gail to record their experience, which eventually became the book, Did I Die? Managing the Mayhem of Alzheimer’s: A Caregiver’s Guide to Peace and Quality of Life. It came out the day Glenn died.
“When I look at what’s recommended for Alzheimer’s patients today, it’s the same thing that was recommended 30 years ago—exercise, eat right, keep your mind active,” says Gail. “As much progress as we’ve made, nothing is happening quickly enough. Seventy-six million people are expected to have Alzheimer’s disease in 2030. It’s an epidemic.”
“People disappear when you tell them you have Alzheimer’s,” says Gail. “There’s a stigma with it.” And that has to change. “Years ago, cancer was a disease that no one talked about. But now most cancers have a high survival rate, if you catch it early. That’s the difference it can make when you make noise.” Gail thinks Alzheimer’s is at a turning point, the way cancer used to be. “No one wants to talk about it. But we have to.”
So she decided to throw her energy into supporting Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. “I’ve never seen any other organization that gives one hundred percent of donations to research. It’s unheard of. Whatever time I have left I’m going to put into helping fight Alzheimer’s, because it is such a horrible, horrible disease.”
To order a copy of the book Did I Die?, or to find out more about Gail and Glenn’s journey, visit alzcaregiver.net.