Renée Harmon, MD, Blogs About Early Onset Alzheimer’s Caregiving Journey With MD Husband

About Renee Harmon, blogger

Harmon, ReneeBy Renée Harmon, MD

When my husband, Harvey, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at age fifty, our carefully balanced life plan capsized almost overnight. He and I had shared responsibilities at our thriving medical practice and at home. When we started the practice in 1992, one of us would be at the office, and the other of us would be home with our two daughters. As they grew, our practice did too, so that by the time the girls were in elementary school, the practice could support both of us being in the office until it was time for one of us to leave for carpool and afternoon activities. The ultimate plan was for both of us to work full-time when the youngest daughter turned sixteen.

When Harvey and I were told that he had Alzheimer’s disease, we were also told that our state’s medical licensing board would help us formulate a plan to transition him out of the practice. However, when I called the board, I was told there could not be a transition period. The liability would be too great. So I had to tell my husband, then we called a staff meeting and told the completely stunned staff that Harvey had Alzheimer’s disease and would be leaving the office immediately. In that one instant, I became a solo practitioner, primary parent to two teen aged daughters, CEO and CFO for our household, and caregiver to my husband.

Because Harvey was an extremely private person, he never wanted to talk about his diagnosis, not even with me. This horrendous disease had dropped into our family’s life, and I couldn’t even talk about it with the one person with whom I could share everything. My outlet became journaling. What a solace it was to be able to express all that I was feeling. I also journaled about how the disease was affecting Harvey, and laid out the timeframe of the progression of his disease.

Harvey passed away a little over a year ago, eight years after his diagnosis. I no longer had the burning need to journal, but I wanted to continue to write and reflect on all that had transpired. I decided to write a blog, and eventually a memoir, to support and encourage other care partners, for whom I had developed a great compassion.

Having been a physician for over twenty-eight years, I am able to bring a uniquely clear-eyed and honest account of Alzheimer’s disease. My weekly posts are short and easily digestible because I know that caregivers have limited time resources.

If I did a word cloud of the comments I have received on my blog, “helpful” would be the most prominent word. My writing has been described as “gentle” by one reader, an adjective that moved me deeply. Overall, readers say that they are thankful for my compassionate, brave, wise, enlightening, and thoughtful writings.
I hope that readers will come away feeling validated and encouraged, and maybe even think about caregiving issues a little differently.

About the Author

Renée Brown Harmon, M.D. was a practicing family medicine physician for twenty-eight years in the Birmingham, Alabama area until she retired in December, 2019. She graduated from Birmingham-Southern College, a small liberal arts college, in 1983. While there, she met her future husband, Harvey S. Harmon, M.D., and together they obtained their medical degrees from the University of Alabama School of Medicine and completed their residencies at the Medical College of South Carolina. After eighteen years of sharing a thriving medical practice, Harvey was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and retired. Dr. Harmon cared for her husband for the eight years of his illness while maintaining their medical practice and rearing their two teen aged daughters. The challenges of caregiving while working and parenting full-time led her to a deep appreciation for all caregivers. Dr. Harmon shares what she has learned through a weekly blog, and has plans to publish a teaching memoir, Surfing the Waves of Alzheimer’s: Principles of Caregiving that Kept Me Upright in the near future. She has shared parts of her story on stage at storytelling venues and is a frequent speaker to groups focused on caregiving for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

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One Response

  1. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Renee Harmon’s story and blog. We have similar Alzheimer’s experiences with regard to why and how we began writing. Her face kindly, and credentials impressive. Thank you.

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