Wed, Dec 01, 2010 - Page 2 News List

Nobel laureate’s wife tells of terrible Alzheimer’s toll

Staff Writer, with CNA

Nobel physics laureate and Alzheimer’s disease sufferer Charles Kao, left, gives a thumbs-up after receiving flowers on Monday at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, where his wife, Gwen Kao, right, was invited to speak by the National Science Council and the Taiwan Alzheimer’s Disease Association.


The wife of a Nobel laureate suffering from Alzheimer’s disease on Monday urged governments worldwide to allocate more resources for the treatment of the disease, which takes a great toll on affected families.

Speaking in Taipei to Alzheimer’s patients and their relatives about the condition of her husband, 77-year-old Chinese-born US citizen Charles Kao (高錕), Gwen Kao (also known by her maiden name, Huang Meiyun, 黃美芸) admitted that she felt some regret about not being more aware of the debilitating disease.

“I wish I had learned more about Alzheimer’s before,” said Gwen Kao, who recalled that the family usually laughed about her husband’s increasing absent--mindedness when he would forget his wallet and keys, rather than being aware that his forgetfulness was an early indicator of the disease.

Gwen Kao was invited to speak by the National Science Council and the Taiwan Alzheimer’s Disease Association.

The fame of her Nobel Prize--winning husband, who is known as the “Father of Fiber Optics,” is helping her raise awareness about the disease so that others may be more prepared to deal with its consequences than she was.

Charles Kao’s condition first received widespread media attention when he won the Nobel Prize in physics last year, since his wife had to deliver his address at the award ceremony in Stockholm because he has difficulty speaking.

Gwen Kao said that prior to the Nobel award ceremony, the Hong Kong government was not well informed about Alzheimer’s.

She furthered the cause in September when she established the Charles K. Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease in Hong Kong, which is devoted to helping families of Alzheimer’s patients by improving dementia-related services.

Aside from raising public awareness about the disease, Gwen Kao has also urged cooperation among organizations and governments to allocate more resources for Alzheimer’s care.

Describing the onset of her husband’s Alzheimer’s, Gwen Kao said the first warning signs came when her husband took a train that was going in the opposite direction of where he intended.

A normal person would have corrected the mistake immediately, but her husband did not know what to do and ended up calling her, Gwen Kao said.

She said the disease left her husband insecure and dependent on others. Aware of his own limitations, he preferred to have her take care of everything, including all the paperwork required by the institutions he was involved with after his retirement.

His brain continued to deteriorate to the extent that he couldn’t even finish a simple jigsaw puzzle or remember new dancing steps. He would stop several times and then go to bed frustrated, Gwen Kao said, adding that the emotional toll was tremendous.

“It’s not like a normal death where the body is gone,” she said. “The wound stays open and never heals.”

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