Children of Alzheimer’s sufferers fear a future diagnosis

When it comes to any recurring fear, “part of that is accepting that there is a certain helplessness and lack of control,” said Dr. Timothy Scarella, an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “That’s particularly true with Alzheimer’s disease: You can get this despite your best efforts.” Worrying about it in the meantime can rob a person of the enjoyment of their healthy years.

As with many other types of worry, psychologists recommend a basic practice of mindfulness. Many activities qualify: meditation, prayer, movement like yoga or qigong, or even walking or hiking—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 guidance may be needed. When Ms. Passarela, the mental health counselor, sees clients who are convinced they are experiencing Alzheimer’s symptoms, she questions that thought: What evidence do you have that the thought is true? What evidence do you have that it’s not true?

Through therapy, Ms. Barber, a software consulting manager in Oregon, has learned tools to manage her worry. Sometimes she takes a walk around her neighborhood. If the thoughts persist, she writes them down to acknowledge what she is experiencing. She then pushes the paper aside, as a physical signal that she is moving on.

When Mrs. Pérez is anxious, she prays the rosary and calm takes over her. Recently, she realized that along with the pain that has accompanied her mother’s illness, there have been unexpected gifts. Whatever happens in the future, she is healthier now, thanks to the lifestyle changes her mother, and her mother’s illness, have inspired, Ms. Perez said. “Even if she’s not here mentally, she’s still helping me.”


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

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