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 (959 Responses)
  1. Jorge

    Cuando Dios hizo al hombre, pronto descubrió que la lealtad y los buenos sentimientos no eran su mejor fuerte. Reconociendo la hijodeputez e IGNORANCIA de éste, Dios le dió al hombre una serie de recomendaciones y normas de comportamiento para que no se autodestruyera. El hombre, confirmando lo que Dios ya había reconocido, las convirtió en RELIGION Y POLITICA...

    September 19, 2011 at 09:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. HFM17

    Pat Robertson is one of the most sanctimonious sleaze bags on the planet....he thinks he knows everything when in reality the only thing this self ordained clown knows how to do is separate dufuses from their social security checks...anyone who would listen and believe a single word on any topic from this windbag deserves to lose money....at the end of the day, that's all the 'Pass The Loot (PTL) club is interested in...your money.

    September 19, 2011 at 09:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dazlinn

      Well stated, HFM17.

      September 19, 2011 at 09:49 | Report abuse |
    • miss tang

      You forgot "sanctimonious."

      September 19, 2011 at 12:09 | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      I can't believe that someone that is a religious leader would say such a thing publically. I have many members of my family who got the disease and it was horrible. None of them would have ever left their spouse. Times were difficult, but that is the worst thing someone can do. He should be kicked off the air. Ridiculous.

      September 19, 2011 at 16:21 | Report abuse |
    • Mike in Montana

      'HFM17'.., I couldn't agree more or have said it better myself.. Your whole comment and observation, is spot on correct. Nice going..

      September 20, 2011 at 01:40 | Report abuse |
  3. Rich

    well said HFM17...Is that what they mean by "born again"? What a pig.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Usta4545

      It's interesting that Mr. Robertson didn't counsel that the man should pray or "seek God's wisdom" in this matter. No – good ol' Pat had an answer primed and ready to go. Nice to know we can skip the part about taking our cares to the Lord and just take them to Pat instead...

      September 19, 2011 at 16:13 | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      He is a pig and I can't believe people actually give money to him. For what? I have always thought he was a freak, but he is considered some sort of leader in the religious community. WHY?

      September 19, 2011 at 16:24 | Report abuse |
  4. Karen

    The Holy Bible only gives one definitive reason why divorce would be acceptable to God and that is in the case of infidelity. I would venture to guess that God would also not fault someone for divorcing a spouse who is trying to kill them as well. A marriage is supposed to reflect the intimate and holy relationship ideal between God and mankind so I fail to see how putting away your spouse through divorce while they are still breathing could be seen as Godly. Would God abondon us when we need him most. I think not. So Mr. Robertson has a lot of explaining to do when it comes to Bible theology. Inspite of what our popular culture and Hollywood would like us to think, marriage is a very serious commitment and is not to be treated lightly.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. TAS

    So what about "in sickness and in health?" It's nice to know that I now have permission to dump my seriously ill spouse off at a nursing home so I can marry someone else.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • HFM17

      in Robertson's version, it's 'in sickness and in wealth'......

      September 19, 2011 at 13:42 | Report abuse |
  6. matt houston

    Wow...no other words...just wow.

    To think some people trust their souls to this Beast.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Chedar

    Bless the old man Robertson for he his getting close to the kingdom of the Senile.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Sickofitall

    Wow what a cold MF. Karma will get him.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. steve

    What Pat Robertson said is just simply unbiblical. There is no way to support such a position.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Mike in Montana

    Pat Robertson is an idiot.. His big mouth and understanding of the bible and marriage.., is like, maybe he has Alzheimer's disease or some other mental illness. I stopped watching his television program long ago and now, I really know why. Four words.., 'incompetent and a hypocrite'. Its time to stop sending money to Pat Robertson and take the show off the air, and save us the embarrassment to Christianity. Mike in Montana

    September 19, 2011 at 11:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Robert

    The problem is that dementia dosen't even fit in with "sickness and health"
    They are GONE.
    They don't know you from a door knob.
    The system is set up so that when your loved one needs full time, long termed care.
    In terms of finanaces AFTER you slowly financially die by spending all of your resources on your loved ones care.
    So, in a sense two people die.
    The system needs to be changed where that cannot happen.
    Asset protection that is REAL..
    It is immoral that a person should have to WATCH this happen to his loved one and WATCH that happen to the product of every working minute of his life...BOTH!
    Sadly, again I say Robertson is right and I hope very soon now, I will have the courage to leave, to always look after, but move on and try my best to protect everything that I worked for over the decades.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ellieky

      Robert, it takes more courage to keep your promise and stay. Robertson is not right... you both should be ashamed.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:44 | Report abuse |
    • Alicia

      What if the situation were reversed?? I lived with this, for 10 YEARS. I watched my loving grandfather, who was my legal guardian, fade away. I watched how my grandmother took care of him. Wiped his a**, fed him, picked him up with a lift...... I only prayed that I would find someone who loved me that much that would take care of me like that. My grandparents showed me the real meaning of true love and sacrifice. I hope you can find the strength to keep the commitment you made, ROBERT

      September 19, 2011 at 12:43 | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      Till death do you part. She isn't dead yet. I'm guessing to him, Terri Schivo wasn't dead yet either. Figure it out

      September 19, 2011 at 13:13 | Report abuse |
    • Molly Brown

      You're right in that most states will wipe out a person's financial assets unless a living trust is established several years before one needs nursing care or hospitalization. Pat Robertson stated care should be provided for the Alzheimer's patient. However, if you divorce a spouse, he/she will most likely lose insurance coverage and be solely at the mercy of Medicare. Not all health care agencies and dementia facilities provide the same level of care. Sadly, I've seen children and relatives abandon their parents in later stages of Alzheimer's. Men seem to be the biggest offenders because American society does not expect much empathy from men to begin with. A close friend of mine stayed loyal to her mother for over 15 years while her brothers couldn't bother themselves with a single visit or to pay their last respects at their mother's funeral. Some people have zero empathy and compassion unless they personally benefit in some way. Those with meager means will most likely be abandoned by relatives who know there is nothing in it for them. I've seen it too many times to know the ugly truth.

      September 19, 2011 at 14:51 | Report abuse |
    • Uniblob

      My God, what a horrible piece of human waste you are.

      September 20, 2011 at 08:47 | Report abuse |
  12. sanjosemike

    A promise is just that, a promise. Even as an atheist, it is possible to remember the promises you made. It has nothing to do with religion. If you are un-prepared to make "the" promise, than you have a choice. Don't get married.


    September 19, 2011 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. SteveA

    Wow, I can just _feel_ the love emanating through his words.


    Seriously, this man is a disservice to true Christians.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Bill

    The 'til death do us part' vow is not applicable for Alzheimer's because it is not, as Robertson ignorantly claimed, a 'sort of death,' it is a sickness which is why the 'in sickness and in health' vow is what is applicable. It astonishes me how utterly ignorant religious conservatives like Robertson, who claim to be pro-life, can be. They don't want women to have abortions, but once the child is born, they really don't care what happens to it. You can also see Ron Paul's comments at the Teabagger debate to further that point.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. jj

    Alzheimer's patients are aware of more than most people think. It would be unbelievably cruel to abandon a loved one who has Alzheimer's.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Duwayne Anderson

    Pat Robertson is a pig.

    I've been married once, still married after 35 years. I love my wife enough to care for her even if she doesn't remember who I am.

    I'm also an atheist - and it's times like this, with pigs like Robertson spewing this sort of crap, that I'm so thankful I don't believe in the god that most of the "Christians" in America worship.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Todd

      Pat Robertson is not a pig. Pigs are intelligent, and useful for meat and other pork related products. Robertson is a useless bag of matter. Stop insulting pigs.

      September 19, 2011 at 13:20 | Report abuse |
    • sanjosemike

      Duwayne, I am also an atheist. The promise of marriage has nothing to do with religion. It is a promise. If you don't want to make "the" promise, than just don't get married. Nobody forces anyone to get married. You do it of your own free will.


      September 19, 2011 at 16:40 | Report abuse |
  17. Debbie in FL

    This irresponsible muttering by Pat Robertson flies in the face of everything I was every taught at church as well as every moral and ethical standard I've ever held myself to. The fact that this fading zealot is given publicity for his idiotic comments is a sad commentary on our entire society. It's time for him to head into retirement and possibly the nursing home himself. These are not the statements of anyone who still has their faculties.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Patrick

    Boy, sure glad we have to protect this "sacred vow" from those eeeeevil gays trying to get married.

    Organized religion keeps our world sick.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Marcia

    Things have to be tough in the Robertson household-I wonder which of the Robinsons have this disease-could be Mrs and Pat is telling us what he is going to do, or it could be Pat with an unusual statement like this

    September 19, 2011 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Rob Y.

    If you're taking any sort of advice from Pat Robertson, you must be brain dead as well!

    September 19, 2011 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Bubba

    Pat Robertson is not a Christian. He never has been a Christian. I'm not Christian either, and I still have more love and compassion for my fellow man than this egotistical monster ever had. Someone please put him in a home.

    September 19, 2011 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Guest

    Until the very end, an Alzheimer's patient is dead only in the sense that a new born baby is dead. Neither of them can do much but neither like to be alone in a closet.

    September 19, 2011 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Jonathan

    Makes sense to me. In fact, I don't think he goes far enough. What about other terminal illnesses, like cancer? They're gonna die anyway, might as well get out now and spare yourself the heartache later. In fact, why does it have to be a terminal illness? Ever seen someone with the flu? They're not themselves anymore, most of the time they just lay around in bed. A lot of times they can become delirious with fever. Plus they're just gross, all that snot and stuff. You shouldn't have to suffer with that. Just sneak out when they're not aware. In fact, let's just rewrite the traditional vows to go ahead and reflect this. "I ______ take you to be my lawfully wedded something-or-other, to have and to hold, as long as things aren't too bad, and as long as you don't get to be too much trouble, or really old and wrinkley, as long as we both shall live or until I get bored with you, whichever comes first." See, that's much more romantic. 😛

    September 19, 2011 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Bible Clown


    September 19, 2011 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Rosslaw

    New Gingrich is a devotee of Robertson. Newt's current wife is afraid to get the sniffles after he dropped his first two for the temerity to develope cervical cancer and MS.

    September 19, 2011 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sanjosemike

      I am a conservative voter. But I can tell you this, if any woman wants to get married to Newt Gingrich, they had better stay well and reasonably pretty. Otherwise they are OUT with the wash. Although I agree with some of his politics, the guy is a jerk.


      September 19, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse |
  26. doc

    I see another; people who are married to prisoners or others with serious psychiatric disorders they did not have at the onset of the marriage. I cannot fault these people for divorcing because of crimes or serious psychiatric disorders – especially when the folks refuse treatment and are a danger to either the spouse or children. Lastly, I know there was an Alzheimer's patient in Chassel, MI who was confused and killed his wife of many years one night. I do not know the details, but don't think the husband ever had been violent previously. So, it is easy to talk the talk about staying married despite Alzheimers, prison or severe mental illness, another to walk the walk. I believe women should have the right to choose what happens to their bodies in the abortion debate, I guess I support people being able to choose with whom they live. Spouses leave each otehr over economic issues and lovers.....

    September 19, 2011 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Really...

    "...that person is gone. They're gone. They are gone." Mr. Roberson – what about your spurious claims regarding an immortal soul? What a tool. What do you expect?

    September 19, 2011 at 14:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Dan Elston

    Pat Robertson's mind checked out a long time ago but he doesn't realize it yet. Pat is a great example of senility at work. His handlers should get him off the air.

    September 19, 2011 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Bible Clown

    If my wife was a madwoman in my attic, I wouldn't be downstairs hitting on Jane Eyre. I'm just not that kind of guy.

    September 19, 2011 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. waltsyd

    My dad had Alzheimer's for nearly 15 years. Until the end, he looked at my mom and said she was his "everything". She was a saint to stick it out, but the love lessons fill all of their children. I've been married 31 years and would never desert my wife, even in the throes of the dreaded A.

    September 19, 2011 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Danko Ramone

    Robertson is kinda Alzheimer'sly dead himself, so it makes sense he'd come up with something that completely wrong.

    September 19, 2011 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Deborah I.

    I'm a Christian, but Pat Robertson is an idiot.

    September 19, 2011 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Coach Bobby Finstock

    Hey, Pat
    Maybe when you get Alzheimer's you'll forget that you're god

    September 19, 2011 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Bible Clown

    That's just senile. There's nothing for him to gain by saying such a heartless and unChristian thing that it must have just slipped out of his babbling lips. Get him into diapers and off the air.

    September 19, 2011 at 16:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Raj

    This guy is not a religious leader. He is is a monster. How can one leave a loved one in a dire state, and with such a serious illness. I will just say one sentence, what goes around comes around...just wait and see..........

    September 19, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Julian Maldonado

    we need to stop placing people on pedestals because only jehova is worthy all others show how flawed we are. who is this bozo anyway?

    September 19, 2011 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Richard Smith

    I guess that Alzheimers is like death, but I wonder how a woman in a permanent vegetative state fares... How did he feel about Terry Schiavo? I guess it is only death when there is no way of suckering trusting old people out of their social security money?

    September 19, 2011 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. maine liberal

    isnt robertson suppose to believe in the power of prayer and god's strength. if prayer can get out the 'gay' a liitle thing like Alzheimers shoud be easy.

    September 19, 2011 at 18:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Ron San Bruno, Ca

    pat robertson is a closet mormon .

    September 19, 2011 at 19:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Kym, Ohio

    I can just see this woman, in a lucid moment: Hey, where's my husband?

    Answer given: "Well, he divorced you in order to date someone else"

    She: *collapses in tears*


    September 19, 2011 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. IHO

    Pat Roberson makes me want to say Thank God I'm an atheist. His view of Alzheimers is very demented and hipocritcal.

    September 19, 2011 at 20:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. erich2112x

    Robertson just makes it up as he goes. He's gotten so rich from Christianity. Jesus is his own personal ATM machine, A cash cow for the charlatan.

    September 19, 2011 at 21:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. terry moore

    Pat...please...just go and die.....Heaven or Hell, I do not care.. Just vanish away... Thank you...

    September 19, 2011 at 22:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Coach Lew

    May a loved one of yours come down with a severe case of Alzheimer's.

    September 20, 2011 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Jen

    The earth may crack asunder and the heavens may split open, but I agree with Pat Robertson on this one. My uncle died of Alzheimer's, and the sad truth is, at some point he just wasn't my uncle anymore; he was someone else. If you have a wife or husband with this disease, and you can forge a new relationship with the person he or she will become (many times), then more power to you. Otherwise, it may be best to make sure that person has appropriate care, and then move on. Whether there's an actual, legal divorce is not the point. The point is whether you, as the spouse who will continue on, can do so.

    September 20, 2011 at 07:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. KYJurisDoctor

    Should Pat Robertson's wife, in turn divorce him, for some of his INSANE comments?

    September 20, 2011 at 08:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. AMsaved

    Christ said that 'false teachers' will make many converts to their lies. Robertson is one of the 'false teachers', and has been for years. This statement is no surprise, since Robertson abandoned his first love (Jesus Christ) a LONG time ago.

    September 20, 2011 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. JacquelineJR

    As if there wasn't enough truly saddening news in the world, here we have a Christian televangelist telling people thirsty, dessicated for guidance, love and faith, to consider the option of leaving their spouse when the difficulties of Alzheimers become intractable. Welcome to the express checkout lane of Christian Fundamentalism.

    September 20, 2011 at 08:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Mark

    This guy is constantly making "news" and none of it has to do with helping anyone, saying anything intelligent or fixing a problem. Everytime he's in the news it's because he's said another dumb or offensive comment. When will people just stop listening to him? Why is he being covered? When will you religious fanatics stop giving him money to have a tv show and support his hypocritical life? Everyone that contributes to him is to blame for this %$#@.

    September 20, 2011 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Wendy

    My mother passed away from Alzheimer's. Pat Robertson shows not only insensitivity and a warped sense of values, but complete ignorance about this horrific disease.

    Victims of Alzheimer's tend to forget their loved ones in the reverse order of when they knew them. For example, my mother forgot our daughter, first – thinking she was me as a child. Then she forgot my husband, thinking he was a doctor. She forgot my younger brother – and then forgot me. The last one she forgot was my father, her husband. It's crucial for love ones to remain in the picture and remain committed to their spouses, parents, etc.. There were days even in her later stages where the fog would seem to lift and she'd remember us. I can't imagine how terrified my mother would have been if my father had deserted her at that point.

    Marriage vows are not subject to convenience. Pat Robertson's advice shows a callous indifference to what the bonds of matrimony really mean. You are to be there for your partner – for better and for worse. That's what love and the commitment of marriage is all about. I feel very sorry for Pat Robertson's wife.

    September 20, 2011 at 09:52 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Leave a Reply to Mala Sangre


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.