- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2003

When Rear Adm. Donald M. Showers retired from the CIA in 1979, he ended 42 years of government work and went on to engage in a decade of service as a private-duty nurse in his own home.

The admiral’s patient was his wife, Billie, who developed Alzheimer’s in 1982 and struggled with that disease until her death 20 years later.

“I had her for 10 years, and she was in a nursing home for the last 10 years,” said Adm. Showers, now 83, of Arlington.

“She was 59 when she first got the disease and 79 when she died. So one-quarter of her life was wasted to Alzheimer’s,” said the admiral, who served in the Navy more than three decades before moving to the Central Intelligence Agency.

He said his wife was working as a real estate broker in Northern Virginia when she showed her first signs of mental confusion. He recalls her getting lost while driving in areas she knew.

She was “also having problems with numbers” and began having colleagues “recheck any numbers in contracts” she drew up, Adm. Showers said.

Early on, a doctor diagnosed Mrs. Showers as having Alzheimer’s. Adm. Showers devoted himself to taking care of her.

“Alzheimer’s is the longest-lasting chronic disease that requires a caregiver,” said the admiral. “My wife lasted 20 years. I’ve known one couple in which [the spouse with Alzheimers] lived 24 years,” he said.

The admiral, who now spends much of his time as a speaker for the Alzheimer’s Association, acknowledges there were some rough times during the decade he was responsible for the care of his ailing wife. In the early 1990s, he was battling his own life-threatening illness: prostate cancer.

“I did the feeding, bathing, dressing and toileting,” Adm. Showers said, adding that he eventually “had to hire some girls to bathe her” when she became too aggressive for him to handle alone.

Adm. Showers said he was grateful for a day-care center in Falls Church that looked after his wife part of the time, giving him a needed “break.”

Mrs. Showers’ mind wasn’t her only fragile organ. “She became unsteady and fell several times. In one fall, it was thought she had broken her hip, and she was kept immobile for two weeks,” he said.

Adm. Showers noted that he and a nurse “couldn’t cope with keeping her in bed” and tending to her needs. “In 1992, I put her in a respite home in Alexandria. She didn’t know me anymore. She showed no emotion about my coming or going. She didn’t care about going home,” which previously had been so important to her, he said.

Adm. Showers concluded he could no longer care for his wife. She entered the National Lutheran Home in Rockville, where she remained until her death last Nov. 6.

Adm. Showers’ predicament is not uncommon. An estimated seven out of 10 U.S. families with an Alzheimer’s patient care for them at home, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Cost is at least one factor for why families prefer to care for Alzheimer’s patients at home, says Adm. Showers. It is not unusual for a nursing home to cost $4,000 a month. Over a year, that’s nearly $50,000. Over a decade, that’s nearly $500,000.

Adm. Showers says he doesn’t believe cost is the main reason many families struggle to care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s at home. “I think the main factor is that families just don’t want to let go,” he said.


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