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The Alzheimer’s Association is grateful to Gene Wilder’s family for revealing he battled Alzheimer’s in the final three years of his life.
Monica Moreno, director of early stage initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about how raising awareness about the disease could lead to early detection.
“Certainly anytime somebody shares their diagnosis, it heightens awareness of the disease, which we hope leads to early detection of the disease,” Moreno said.
She said so much of the general public believes that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s are a normal part of aging that they don’t go to the doctor or discuss the challenges they are facing. From Wilder’s family statement, Moreno said, it appears that Wilder did get an early diagnosis. “He was able to actually have conversations with his family about what he wanted to have happen” in terms of sharing the diagnosis, she said.
“The choice to keep this private was his choice, in talking with us and making a decision as a family,” said Wilder’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, in a statement announcing the actor’s death.
Moreno explains that because of the misperceptions around Alzheimer’s and the belief that symptoms are a part of aging, many Alzheimer’s patients unfortunately never get to have that conversation with their family, particularly because the disease is a progressive one.
Wilder and his family chose to keep his diagnosis a secret and explained their decision after he passed. “The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children that would smile or call out to him ‘there’s Willy Wonka’ would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion,” said Walker-Pearlman. “He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.”
“It’s a very personal decision for each individual and their family,” said Moreno. She said Walker-Pearlman’s statement shows Wilder was “very thoughtful in why he made that decision.”
“We appreciate the fact that the Wilder family did share his diagnosis after his passing,” said Moreno. “We know that over 5 million Americans are living with this disease and over 15 million people are caring for them.” She said that the Alzheimer’s Association wants people to “know they are not alone” and that it can provide information on care and services for patients.
Wilder’s family referred to the disease as an “illness-pirate.”
“We understand for all the emotional and physical challenges this situation presented we have been among the lucky ones – this illness-pirate, unlike in so many cases, never stole his ability to recognize those that were closest to him, nor took command of his central-gentle-life affirming core personality,” said Walker-Pearlman. “It took enough, but not that.”
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