For more than 40 years, Houston clinical psychologist Richard Taylor, PhD, helped troubled teenagers gain control over drug and alcohol addictions and curb suicidal thoughts. Today, he serves a new troubled client: himself.
In 2002, neurologists diagnosed Taylor, then 58, with "dementia, probably of the Alzheimer's type," and for about three weeks, the psychologist cried every day, he says. But rather than join the nearly 40 percent of people with Alzheimer's disease who become clinically depressed, Taylor began writing about his fears-and triumphs-as a way to "gain control over what was happening between my ears," he says.
"Writing became my therapy without a co-pay," Taylor recalls in one of 82 essays he wrote for his book "Alzheimer's From the Inside Out" (Health Professions Press, 2007). "I wrote to reassure myself that some of the old me was still there, because I was in transition in ways no one seemed to understand."
His narratives address common questions such as "What is it like to have Alzheimer's disease?" (Answer: like he's looking at the world through his grandmother's lace curtains) and his fears and concerns for an uncertain future. And while a piece that would have taken him 10 minutes to write pre-Alzheimer's often takes him 10 hours these days, the work helps Taylor better understand himself.
But it wasn't until he shared one of his essays with a friend-also diagnosed with early Alzheimer's-that Taylor realized that others with the disease shared his concerns, and he decided to take his essays mainstream. Since the book's publication, Taylor has learned that he isn't the only person with Alzheimer's disease to conclude, after one too many failed attempts at buttoning his shirt correctly, that the shirt was "broken," as described by his granddaughter in one essay. Nor is he the first to find that his mind has been full of "puddles" since the "tsunami of forgetfulness" cascaded through his brain. But Taylor might be the first to say it so eloquently.
He's now a public advocate for the more than 5 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He speaks nationally on behalf of patient involvement in treatment decisions and edits a quarterly newsletter for people with early Alzheimer's and their caregivers.
Having sat on the clinician's side of the couch himself, Taylor doesn't hold back in his plea for help from his former profession. He says he'd like to see psychologists get more involved in counseling and treating people with Alzheimer's, especially in the disease's early stages, and move away from viewing advanced patients as half empty.
"We're always a whole person in our own minds," Taylor says. "Psychologists should be supportive of people's wholeness-their all-rightness."