A Legacy of Survival: Part 1 of 3
November 1, 2017
1970s: Combativeness at home and little help to be found
“Mrs. Bashkiroff, you must realize that society isn’t ready for problems such as yours.”
The psychiatrist’s words enraged Anne Bashkiroff. He was only one of the hundreds of people and agencies she had contacted during the nine years she struggled to care for her husband, Alexander, who was diagnosed with pre-senile dementia in 1969.
The doctor presented one more of the closed doors Anne met time and again as her husband’s cognitive condition deteriorated from what we now call early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alexander became combative and often violent. He followed her relentlessly as she tried to go to work or run errands. No worker would stay in their home for long. Seven times she returned home in relief after placing him in a nursing or psychiatric facility only to be told within days to remove him because of his behavior.
All through this, insurance and Medicare would pay only for brief hospital stays. Anne’s job and her husband’s retirement pension were not enough to cover all the other costs for his 24-hour care, most of which were not even tax-deductible. Several of Anne’s employers, members of a hospital board, were going into their own pockets to help the family. Most of all, she often felt completely alone as her own parents died, friends disappeared, and she could not leave her husband.
In 1977 Anne was introduced to Jane Ophuls, board member, and Barbara Cohen, executive director, of the San Francisco Mental Health Association (MHA). Both strong women unused to being told ‘no,’ they were determined to help her. When they too hit walls in finding a long-term placement, they invited Anne to a community assessment meeting at the MHA.
There Anne met Suzanne “Sue” Harris, an MHA board member who knew well what Anne was enduring. Her own husband, Robert, was chairman of the psychology department at Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute when he was left severely brain-damaged by an aneurysm, a type of cerebral hemorrhage. Ironically, Anne’s husband was sometimes taken to Langley Porter while she searched for answers. Sue and her children had also spent years dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s decline, watching a brilliant man eventually need total care.
“Survival” was the word that Sue would go on to use to describe how she and her family persevered through the ordeal. But her experience, as harrowing as it was, and the strength she found to cope with it, would someday give hope to others faced with similar situations.
— Diana Petty, FCA Executive Director 1978–1989