David Cassidy: Teen Idol to Dementia Caregiver

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In the 1970s David Cassidy was a singer, Partridge Family actor and teen idol who inspired teenage girls to tape posters of him on their bedroom wall, or don the coveted silk baseball-style jacket with his image on back. Fast-forward to today, and Cassidy is still performing on music tours and Broadway. But he's also a spokesperson for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America and the Alzheimer's Research & Prevention Foundation. He travels around the nation to tell his personal story about his mother's dementia and how it changed his life forever. He wants to raise awareness about the debilitating disease, but equally important, he says, is to acknowledge people who take care of parents with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, and the daily struggle of watching a parent's decline.

AgingCare.com spoke with Cassidy about his work with the Alzheimer's and dementia organizations, his role as a caregiver, and the night that changed his life forever.

A caregiver overnight

Like so many, Cassidy didn't pay much attention to the first signs of dementia: his mother couldn't remember names as well. But living in a different state, he wasn't aware of his mother's true mental decline. She was married to a wonderful man who loved her. When Cassidy would call weekly to check-in, his mom, in her early 80s, would often rush off the phone. So Cassidy would talk to her husband, who assured Cassidy that everything was fine. When his mother's husband passed, Cassidy learned the truth.

For Cassidy, it happened overnight; his mother's dementia had been progressing for a while. Shortly after her husband's death – less than a few months – Cassidy got a call from a friend of his mother saying his mom wouldn't answer the phone and hadn't been doing well lately.

Cassidy planned a visit, but less than 48 hours after the first call he got another, this time from the police, in the middle of the night. His mother was found in the street in her nightgown, crying. They took her to an Alzheimer's care hospital. At that moment, Cassidy realized how much her husband had been covering for his mom. Cassidy believes his mother's husband hid the truth because in his generation, dementia was called "senile," which meant "crazy." It was something to be ashamed of.

Cassidy's mother had been in the depths of dementia for months or possibly years before he found out. As his mother's only son (his mother's siblings had died), long-distance caregiving fell squarely on Cassidy's shoulders.

Cassidy immediately got on a plane. When he saw his mother, he felt pure shock. His mother was angry. She didn't know why she was in the hospital. She wanted to go home. To 23 Elm Street. That home was where the family had lived when Cassidy was a child. They hadn't lived there in decades. Her New Jersey accent – which she'd lost years ago after moving out of the area – was once again prevalent.

Finding senior housing

The hunt began for a place that could care for his mother. They spent days touring housing that specialized in Alzheimer's and dementia care. Cassidy found one that he and his mom liked. He moved in items that had been special to this mother throughout her life: family photos, a favorite dresser, her makeup table. He feels comfortable that his mom is well-cared for and Cassidy visits as often as he can.

The Alzheimer's and dementia care skilled nursing facility has two stages, or areas, for residents. Level 1 is for people who can talk and walk. They are losing mental capabilities, but are able to assist in their own care. Level 2 is a safe locked-door area for people in advanced stages of the disease. Cassidy's mom spent three years in Level 1. She now lives in Level 2.

Cassidy's mother, actress Evelyn Ward, was on television shows like Dr. Kildare, Perry Mason and Ben Casey, and performed in more than 20 Broadway shows from the late 1940s to the 60s.

When Cassidy thinks back, he feels deep sadness. "Mom was a wonderful signer, actress and dancer. So full of life. To watch someone who raised you who was so vibrant is the most painful thing I ever experienced. At that moment, I broke down. I couldn't control my weeping for days and nights."

Speaking without words

While two-way conversations are very limited, Cassidy says there are times when he's sure his mother knows him. "When I walk into the room and kiss her, a tear rolls down her face." Even though she can't speak back, Cassidy tells her how much he loves her, how beautiful she still is, how good it feels to hold her hand.

When grandson Beau visited (Cassidy has a son and daughter) he had an overwhelmingly emotional experience. "My son had an incredible connection with his nana. When he went to visit, she recognized him. They spent a long time just looking at each other, crying, loving, caring."

Spreading the word about dementia

Because of his experiences with dementia for 10 years, Cassidy realized he could impact millions of people, including caregivers, with his story. "I wanted to use my notoriety to put myself in a position to help others. I wanted to educate and tell my story."

He approached several Alzheimer's and dementia organizations who jumped at the chance to have Cassidy as a spokesperson. Today, he does speaking engagements nationwide. He tells the hard facts: the last of the baby boomers are nearing retirement. People are living longer, with advancements in healthcare, medical research, and pharmaceuticals that keep people alive for years. "Even with new Alzheimer's and dementia care facilities being built, they won't have the manpower to handle what will soon be an epidemic," Cassidy says.

In addition to the dementia facts, Cassidy speaks directly to caregivers. "For all the caregivers, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without you, your elderly relative could not possibly survive."

Cassidy says, "I want caregivers to know how vital they are, how brave and strong they are. They are important and special to me."

Life doesn't stop for dementia

Show business has been part of Cassidy's life since he was 19, when the Partridge Family first aired. Today he's still involved in the business. He's produced a television series; he's starring in Blood Brothers on Broadway and continues to tour with his band. "I have a tremendously loyal fan base. I love doing what I do now more than I ever did. I have so much more appreciation for life than I did in my 20s." On top of his career commitments, and continuing on the speaking circuit for the Alzheimer's and dementia organizations, Cassidy visits his mom as often as he can.

When she moved to senior housing, she wanted to remain near her home and her friends, but due to his career and travel commitments, Cassidy lives thousands of miles away. Despite the distance, he makes it a point to visit his mother at least once a month. "Family is most important. The travel schedule can get crazy, but spending time with my mom is at the top of my list of priorities."

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15 Comments

I hear you Ire4along. I love these people who act like they are caregivers when all they are are offspring that visit their parents in facilities. They never gave up jobs, friends, a social life, vacations to care for their parents in their homes or the homes of their parents. Yet, they call themselves devoted caregivers. Give me a break.
Just because a person does not live nearby their elderly parents does not mean they are not a "caretaker." When my father had dementia and it became clear that he was going to need help, it was I who did all of his legal papers, I who arranged for a realtor to sell his house, I who hired repairmen to get the house ready to sell, I who handled all of his finances and legal affairs, I who dragged him around to banks to get everything converted to revocable living trusts, I who took care of my mother's estate single-handedly when she dropped dead of a sudden heart attack one day when dad was in getting rehab after a stroke, etc.. I had to do this from 500 miles away with a few visits to his area in order to make all of this happen. I know adult children who live in the same town as their elderly parents who don't show as much care for them as I did. I was not particularly "close" to my parents, yet I chose to do all of the above. My brother, the attorney, was completely USELESS in all of the above because the man emotionally could not deal with the situation. So, the "guilt trip" should not be laid on adult children who do not take parents into their home to care for them - it's not always possible. Sometimes the demands of their careers, or their children's education requires them to live in a city miles away from their aging parents.
The details that David Cassidy shares about his Mom's Dementia sound very similar to my Mom's slow decline. I don't know why you are saying his story is made up, were you there when the police picked her up or when the neighbor called the police? I DO KNOW.... that you can be involuntarily admitted,BUT, only if you are in danger, a harm to yourself or others. So if the police went to her house and she wasn't doing something to harm herself or others she would have had to agree to going into a Hospital Voluntarily. It wouldn't be right if anyone could call the police and say admit my neighbor into a mental facility she just getting ready to eat breakfast. If a person is sitting eating breakfast why would anyone feel the need to call adult protective services or have that many police or involuntarily admit her?
My Mom was in a bathing suit on a cold October afternoon walking the streets, completely lost in her mind. The police "asked her" if she wanted to go to the hospital "SHE" agreed, she said yes because she did not feel well. Prior to that my Mom was at the police station, nearly daily, for paranoid type issues or she'd go to the neighbors to ask them to check out if someone was robbing her, this was also daily, sometimes more than one time a day. They could not bring her to the hospital at that time because she was not harming herself or others. I was refused by her to help so were other relatives that tried. She refused everyone's help until the day she Voluntarily was admitted. So I do feel blessed that nothing else happened to her and that she was treated and from that point on, I could start the process of dealing with her care and quality of life and her care needs. I cared for her in my Home, after she was diagnosed and she was stabilized with medications and that was the new routine in keeping her stable enough to what I needed to do. This was only possible for 1 year. She became more confused and uncooperative and just plain unhappy that I was 24/7 on her back. I was very pleasant and had a lot of patience I was sweet to her all the time. She walked into a lake one night, she thought it was a puddle, climbed out windows to get out of the house, she walked dangerous roads into traffic etc. I would go to the bathroom 5 minutes and she'd take off one way or another. The police luckily were there almost every day to respond, they still could not do anything unless she agreed to going to the hospital.. So a Nursing Home was the only answer or she would have gotten hurt sooner or later. It is not a reality still... to my family, of how much time and energy it took me to care for her. How very dangerous the world is to my Mom. I am not rich and neither is Mom. So I feel blessed that she is now having a great quality of life at a good place, and her safety and hygiene are under control . She worked hard to stay afloat in her life and she contributed to the funds that are there now for the necessities of her quality of life now. I am very thankful for having the resources she paid for over the years and she absolutely earned it all and she's cared for now.
I am also Thankful for anyone helping with the awareness of dementia or any elder in need. Most times people do not understand until it becomes a crisis and it's too late. I see people that I know going through this in early stages. I warn family of the need of attention and what is next and most times it ends up in unpleasant results because they wait until it is too late. This is mainly why I come to this site and try to help those who are trying to deal with it all.
A person does not have to be physically taking care of someone to be a caregiver they just have to be aware of the seriousness of care needs and see that the elder is out of harms way and getting everything they need on a daily basis.
A person such as David Cassidy has lived through this experience and is willing to take time to aware others in anyway possible and his celebrity status aids in the awareness and he wants to help others, so that a Crisis Situation can be avoided and as his Mothers condition, this may be treated earlier to prolong a healthier happier Quality of Life. Look at my profile picture it says it all. Once I was aware Mom was happier and so am I.