DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently learned that a longtime acquaintance who I really like has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Everyone around her is freaked out, as is expected. While I have never been one of the people who called her regularly, she knows, or at least she knew, that I care about her. I want to show my respect now. Really, I want to help. She has been married for many years, and her husband can be difficult. I want to tell him that I am here for them, but I am not sure how. I keep thinking that she may just want a little company from time to time. What should I do? -- Wanting to Help, Detroit
DEAR WANTING TO HELP: Start by contacting your friend's husband. He may have been difficult in the past, but illness has a way of transforming people. If you let him know that you care about his wife and want to be of support to them, he may be open to the idea. Be specific. Tell him that you would love to see her and spend time with her if that is appropriate. Ask if he needs anything. Often, caregivers need pockets of support that could include spending time with the afflicted while they have a moment of downtime or have a chance to run errands.
Even if he does not respond favorably, stay in touch. Alzheimer's is an insidious disease, and caregivers will need ongoing support in the coming months and years. If you want to sign up to help for the long haul -- to the best of your ability -- let him know and stay in touch with him.