Constable: Wife tells of Alzheimer's toll on caregivers
By Burt Constable
No matter what new ruination Alzheimer's disease might inflict upon Marshall Brodien's mind today, the Geneva magician famous for portraying Wizzo the Wizard on TV's "The Bozo Show" still recognizes love.
Over and over again.
During a Friday lunch outing with Mary Doyle, his wife of more than 20 years, a smitten Brodien takes her hand and asks, "Do you think you'd marry me?"
He does that time after time.
"He totally forgets we're married. He doesn't remember anything of our history," says Doyle, who grieves the loss of that precious past even as she celebrates the joy that he still wants to marry her. "It's heartwarming and heart-wrenching."
In her new book, "Navigating Alzheimer's," Doyle explains how her own life depended on changing the way she cared for her husband. Exhausted and depressed, Doyle's physical health was failing as she cared for Brodien in their Geneva home as Alzheimer's advanced for a decade.
The disease was killing her faster than it was her husband, who is 20 years older and turns 82 next month.
A Stanford University study found that Alzheimer's caregivers have a 63 percent higher mortality rate than non-caregivers, and that 40 percent of caregivers die from stress-related disorders before the Alzheimer's patient dies. Had she not made the decision to move her husband into a facility that cares for people with Alzheimer's, Doyle says she wouldn't have survived to celebrate her 62nd birthday.
An author and divorced mother of three, Doyle was writing a freelance feature story on St. Charles magician Terry Evanswood for the Chicago Tribune in 1994, when she called other magicians, including Brodien, for comment.
Doyle thought Brodien, a divorced father of four grown children, had an interesting story, too. He started his career as a teenager in a nightclub so rough that a patron once held a gun to his head and made Brodien reveal how he did a trick.
Brodien built a magic empire with magic cards he sold on television before he became famous to a generation of children as Bozo's TV sidekick, Wizzo. When Brodien retired, Doyle wrote a story headlined, "Wizzo Does Vanishing Act."
They met for coffee. Then dinner. A year later, they married. Within a decade, the sad "vanishing act" of Alzheimer's started taking away the man she loves.
"I lose a little of my husband every day," Doyle writes in her blog. "My heart breaks to see that vibrant, energetic, larger-than-life, wonderful man disappearing in front of my eyes."
As newlyweds, Doyle helped schedule Brodien's appearances and travel, and also appeared in his magic acts as "the box jumper" -- the lovely assistant who disappears from one box only to reappear in another. By the time they celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary, "I knew something wasn't right," Doyle remembers.
Her husband would drive past a garbage can on the curb and think it was a barking dog, or mistake a pile of leaves for a horde of frogs. He'd say he was going to run a quick errand, and then he'd been gone for five hours, unable to account for the time.
"Once he was diagnosed, I understood," says Doyle, who has an associate degree from the College of DuPage, a bachelor's degree from Judson University and a master's degree in pastoral theology from St. Mary of the Woods College. "It was taken away so quickly, it hurt so badly."
Always "full of laughter," their home in Geneva changed. Brodien, who loved showing friends the magical museum in his basement, became paranoid and confused. "He was accusing them of stealing things, hurting him, embarrassing him," Doyle says.
Some of his behavior was dangerous.
"Marshall would literally forget he was driving," she says, recalling how she waited far too long before she took away his keys. "I waited way too long for everything."
Bills went unpaid. "When I took his checkbook, there were scribbles in there," Doyle says.
She watched him day and night, when he was prone to wandering.
"It would be zero degrees and neither of us would have jackets on and I'd be barefoot in the snow," she says. She brought a caretaker into their home before she realized her husband needed more care.
At times, his behavior was as if it came from a different man.
"One day, he threw me down the stairs," Doyle says, adding that Brodien didn't remember doing it. "There are so many problems that happen before you make the change."
Suffering from double-pneumonia, asthma and other health issues, Doyle had to move her husband into a facility better equipped to handle him.
"You're feeding them. You're dressing them. They don't even know if they've eaten," she says of caring for Alzheimer's patients. "How do you give constant care when you are totally exhausted? There was nothing left for me, or the rest of my family or the work. I felt like I was responsible for everything for Marshall. I always feel that I'm his external hard drive."
Sometimes he didn't recognize a picture of him wearing his Wizzo costume.
"It's the hardest thing in the world to place somebody in a home. If feels like you're giving up," Doyle says, explaining how she has discovered that it is better to share the care. "What I learned is: I am part of the team."
Every member of that team worked recently so that Brodien could make a quick cameo on a WGN-TV news spot featuring Geneva and his magician son, Marshall Brodien Jr. "He was fighting. He didn't want to shower. He didn't want to get dressed. He didn't want to eat. He didn't want to go," Doyle says. Then his son gave the cue and Brodien gave his catchphrase, "Doody. Doody. Doo."
Minutes later, when people told him he did well, the elder Brodien responded, "What are you talking about?"
Doyle visits Brodien every other day and has learned how to cope.
"He has a girlfriend," Doyle says, her eyes tearing with that admission. Forgetting that he's a married man, Brodien might be holding that woman's hand before he leaves for lunch with his wife. By the time lunch is over, he's forgotten about his girlfriend and wants to marry his wife. Sometimes, Doyle lets him know that they already are married.
"No kidding," he'll reply. "I actually got to marry you? Wow!"
Minutes later, he'll forget, and repeat his proposal. Then, he'll forget about that in his hurry to return to his new routine.
"All my entertainment friends are meeting for lunch," he'll tell her, or "I have a meeting. I think I have to get back."
They say goodbye, until the next visit.
"They still need your love and your companionship," Doyle says of her husband and others with Alzheimer's. "And now I can give him all of that."
Help for caregiversAlzheimer's Association: alz.org 1-800-272-3900
Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center: alzheimers.org (800) 438-4380
Alzheimer's Foundation of America: alzfdn.org (866) 232-8484
Administration on Aging: aoa.gov (202) 619-0724
Consumer Consortium on Assisted Living: ccal.org (703) 533-8121
Caregiver Active Network: caregiver.action.org (202) 454-3970
Financial Planning Association: fpanet.org (800) 322-4237
Medicare Hotline: medicare.gov (800) 633-4227
National Adult Day Services Association: nadsa.org (877) 745-1440
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging: n4a.org (202) 872-0888
National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers: caremanager.org (520) 881-8008
National Eldercare Locator: Eldercare.gov (800) 677-1116
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization: nhpco.org (703) 837-1500
Social Security Administration: ssa.gov (800) 772-1213