September 16th, 2011
05:22 PM ET

Pat Robertson makes controversial Alzheimer's claims

Pat Robertson, former presidential candidate and well-known televangelist, gave advice on his TV talk show “The 700 Club" this week that doesn't sit well with some people familiar with Alzheimer's disease.

A viewer named Andreas asked about his friend, who started seeing another woman after his wife developed Alzheimer's: "He says that he should be allowed to see other people, because his wife as he knows her is gone. I’m not sure what to tell him. Please help."

Robertson acknowledged that this is a "terribly hard thing" but also said the person in question is correct. "I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her," he said.

"Isn't that the vow we take when we marry someone, that's for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer?" his co-anchor asked.

There is the vow of "till death do us part," but Alzheimer's is "a kind of death," he said.

Time.com: Pat Robertson's worst gaffes

Paul R. Wolpe, director of the Emory Center for Ethics in Atlanta, takes issue with the idea that spouses of Alzheimer's patients don't have to have any fealty to their spouses because of the disease.

"I think he misunderstands how important emotional support is to people with Alzheimer's. Except for the most extreme and close to death people with Alzheimer's, they respond to emotional context. The emotional part of their lives is the last part to go," he said.

It's extremely therapeutic in many cases for people to maintain relationships with their spouses with Alzheimer's, he said. There are situations in which a spouse will choose to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer's or start a relationship with someone else while remaining married but will continue to remain connected to the Alzheimer's patient.

Wolpe is troubled by the idea that it's OK to abandon an Alzheimer's patient because he or she is already dead.

"I think abandoning a spouse because they have Alzheimer's is unethical. Divorcing them or not divorcing them isn't an issue to me so much; it's abandonment," he said. Robertson "did not say you have any responsibility to continue to try to support them emotionally, to visit them."

Not everyone took such a hard stance on Robertson's remarks. Beth Kallmyer, senior director of constituent services at the Alzheimer’s Association, emphasized how stressful it is for caregivers of Alzheimer's patients to watch their loved ones in this condition, which can result in their grieving for a spouse while he or she is still alive.

As for whether Alzheimer's is a kind of death, Kallmyer said she understands that some people may see it this way but said this also raises the need for education about the disease. "That person, even in the end stages, is still a person with a full history and a life that's been lived," she said.

But it can feel like the person is slowly dying. Kallmyer and colleagues get calls from caregivers who don't know how to talk to their spouses anymore. To that, she says:

"Talk to them like you used to talk to them. Do you know a favorite song that you could sing? To continue to have those conversations, and when people in the later stages are engaged with like that, there is a reaction, people react, and they can benefit from that," she said.

If you have a question or need support, call the Alzheimer's Association's 24-hour hot line at 1-800-272-3900.

soundoff (720 Responses)
  1. luther

    WOW! this dumb-ass, santimonious, self-serving jerk must think God died and left him in charge of judgment!!!!!!!!!!!!! what ever happened to "til death do us part"? and, NO, one is NOT dead until their last breath leaves their body

    September 20, 2011 at 10:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • thomas

      I guess the new code of conduct is "until inconvenient do us part"

      Why stop at Alzheimer? Suppose my wife has really bad allergies, can I dump her too?

      Pat Robertson is such an embarrassment.

      September 27, 2011 at 09:41 | Report abuse |
  2. blf83

    Pat R HAS Alzheimer's. Nothing else could his lack of ability to think before speaking.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • thomas

      How would anyone know? He's been batchit crazy for decades.

      September 20, 2011 at 12:07 | Report abuse |
  3. Ethel Chadwick

    I am appalled and sickened by Pat's response. As long as your spouse is alive, you are legally married. It may not be easy, it may not be ideal, but when you truly love someone you care for them and stay with them. My mother died from this horrible disease. I am sure that had my father still been alive, he would have cared for his beloved until her last dying breath. Shame on Pat Robertson. May God forgive him.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. PanceCrapper

    So if alzheimers is a kind of death because people have lost their mental faculties.... then is a fetus with an undeveloped brain which has no conscious thought also "dead" therefore making abortion OK? Sounds good to me Pat.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Matt

      Well played, Mr. Crapper! Well, played. I actually applauded this comment. Pat R. is a TOOL (yes, I said it, again.)

      September 21, 2011 at 07:53 | Report abuse |
  5. Pinky

    I am floored by this. My father is in a nurisng facility wth alzheimers but when I come to visit, he lights up. He knows my touch and my hugs, he just smiles ear to ear. How could enyone ever take that from a man's last days??

    September 20, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mala Sangre

    in related views raped children should be forced to have the baby at which time nothing needs to be done to help them

    September 20, 2011 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Sally

    How can this farce all himself a man of God??!! This man is a complete phony- I feel bad for his children also no matter how old they are, as my father betrayed his family also, and it still huts, but he yelled at every opportunity he got and "proudly" so what an atheist he was...sad. very sad....... but this jerk CLAIMS he loves God?? This is what steers some people away from organized religion when farces like this blabber.

    September 20, 2011 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • thomas

      What kind of people really and truly listen to this guy?

      The scary part is that his audience probably votes.

      September 27, 2011 at 09:47 | Report abuse |
  8. Anthony

    This man is a waste of life.

    September 20, 2011 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Marti

    I don't have much respect for Pat Robertson, either. However, some of the comments are vitriolic. You can't take every word in the scripture literally. If so, you would stone to death a spouse who is unfaithful, etc. You really show your true nature, when you respond in this way. Have you ever thought of responding in a professional manner. Some have – but a good share are showing how unintelligent you are not!

    September 20, 2011 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ann

    I have a gut feeling that if Pat Robertson had been asked if a wife should divorce her husband who had Alzheimer's, his answer would have been the opposite. I think he would have said she should stay faithful to her husband. In my opinion Pat Robertson was wrong on this issue as he is on most of the other things he says. He isn't a spokesman for God. He may be wise in his own eyes, but not in my mine.

    September 20, 2011 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Matt

    Why do we keep dignifying this peice of $#!% with coverage and acknowledgement? Why is he still even on the air? Why are any of those televangelists on the air? What a TOOL! That is all I can say. Pat Robertson is a TOOL!!!!

    September 21, 2011 at 07:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Orange Pekoe

    What a horrible man. I made a vow and intend to stick to it regardless. This is just another reason this man should be ignored by every decent person. And yes, it's probably because it's a question of a man. Women would no doubt be expected to heed their marriage vows.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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