She Never Said Goodbye with Vern Ellison

By George Ellison
WebMD Live Events Transcript

Date: 06/15/2000.

Vern Ellison shares his experiences maintaining his marriage and assuming a caretaker role as his wife succumbed to Alzheimer's disease.

The opinions expressed by Mr. Ellison are his and his alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's Senior Vitality Auditorium. Today we are discussing Alzheimer's Disease in She Never Said Goodbye, with Vern Ellison.

George "Vern" Ellison, 65, is the loving husband of Sara Ellison, the subject of She Never Said Goodbye. They have been married for thirty-seven years and are the proud parents of three children and four grandchildren. After serving for twenty years in the Marine Corps and retiring with the rank of major Ellison spent seventeen years in the California Community College system teaching and coaching at Palomar College in San Marcos. He now dedicates his time to Alzheimer's awareness and education.

Mr. Ellison, welcome to WebMD Live. Why did you write your book She Never Said Goodbye?

Ellison: I wrote it initially as a tribute to my wife. There are millions of people who have gone through Alzheimer's who are going to be forgotten, and I think this book will help her be remembered. Secondly, my wife never got to know her grandchildren. They never got to know her. They know her in her illness and this will be a record for them that they can read later in their life. The most important reason is the Alzheimer's Association is trying to get the word out about the disease that is almost becoming epidemic for those getting older in life. As we extend the lives, we're going to have millions of demented elderly who are going to require care on a daily basis. There's no prevention or cure found. Right now, the present four million plus victims of Alzheimer's is expected to reach 14 million by 2050. That is, if there's no prevention or cure on the horizon. Right now, the information I have is it is going to be at least 15 more years before some solution might be found. It's estimated that when a person reaches 85, they have about a 50% chance of coming down with Alzheimer's Disease. That is going to be a lot of people, particularly when we have the baby boomers around the corner. Next year the first baby boomers start turning 55. It's going to be the baby boomers that lead us into a tragic situation as it pertains to Alzheimer's.

Moderator: Were you a writer before this book, or was it truly a labor of love?

Ellison: I'm not a writer. This is my first and only book and probably my only book ever. I think there's an important message in the book and people who have read the book feel that everybody should read the book, particularly those that have reached the golden age of 50. Everybody feels this is an important book with important information that people should consider in planning their lives. Through my research, I found out that a lot of people plan for retirement but nobody seems to plan for becoming old. People have to plan for their very elderly years. Sixty-five is no longer old.

Moderator: Are you referring to financial planning, or lifestyle planning?

Ellison: Everything. Financial, lifestyle, just planning on becoming old, because that's a fact. In today's paper, the Associated Press put out an article that life expectancy is going to be more than was planned for. Right now it's about 76-1/2 years. Fifty years from now, it will be almost 83.

Moderator: What did you know about Alzheimer's disease before this journey with your wife began?

Ellison: Nothing. Basically absolutely nothing. I had heard about Alzheimer's. I read about some of the famous people who have gotten it. You hear about the important people. I just heard that Alzheimer's was something to do with getting old and memory problems. Along this little trip I've been taking with my wife, I've learned a lot of things, many of them the hard way.

Moderator: How is your wife doing now?

Ellison: My wife is still alive. She no longer talks. She's incontinent. The first week in April she fell and she was having trouble walking. She can no longer walk unassisted. She's in what's called a Merrywalker. They have a chair, they sit down in it and they can walk, but they're supported by the railings as they move this contraption around. It keeps them from falling. It enables them to walk unassisted. She's in the final stages of Alzheimer's. She was diagnosed eight years ago and according to the Alzheimer's Foundation, the average life span from diagnosis to death is eight years. My wife has now reached that eighth year.

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