A year after her husband's death, Karen Wilder opens up about what it's like caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease.
Posted in , Jan 29, 2018
In an exclusive essay published by ABC News, Karen Wilder, the widow of legendary actor Gene Wilder, reflects on the difficult years she spent not just as a wife but as a caregiver for her husband battling Alzheimer’s.
The couple met in 1989 when Wilder showed up to her office, hoping to get professional advice from Karen, a speech pathologist, for his upcoming role in “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” in which the character he was portraying was deaf. They got married a year later and spent the following twenty years together.
Wilder, who was famous for his roles in The Producers, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Young Frankenstein, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013. Mrs. Wilder recalls in particular the last six years spent with her husband and how the disease not only began to take control over his life, but hers as well. “In addition to destroying – piece by piece – the one who’s stricken with [Alzheimer’s], it ravages the life of the person caring for its victims. In our case, I was that person,” she wrote in the essay. According to a study done by Stanford Medicine, 40 percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers die before the patient due to the physical and emotional toll that care-giving takes on them.
Gene passed away in August 2016, with Karen by his side until the very end. She hopes to raise awareness about the disease that took her husband’s life by allowing Gene’s portrayal of Willy Wonka to be used in the “Pure Imagination Project,” a video campaign.
“I have a responsibility, I think," she says of why she's sharing their story. "Neither my love, nor science, could save my husband’s life. But it’s my most profound hope that through research and awareness, others may be spared the experience that killed Gene – and could have killed me, too.”