‘People Should Kill You, If It Becomes Too Much’

Interlocked hands


By , The Cut

This weekend, the New York Times ran a long piece about a 79-year-old man named Richard Shaver who murdered his 80-year-old wife, Alma, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and then killed himself. In a storytelling decision that has infuriated disability-rights activists, the piece was written not as a violent-crime story, but as a poignant romance. As the story’s writer, Corina Knoll, tweeted: “A man shot his wife with Alzheimer’s, then killed himself. I wanted to understand their story. Turns out, it was one of love.”

The piece took readers through the Shavers’ love story, describing how their courtship began at a high-school dance in 1956 and lasted for over 60 years, during which time they raised three daughters. “They were absolutely soul mates — crazy about each other,” says a neighbor quoted in the piece. After Alma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, their daughters tried to intervene, but, as they told the Times, Richard insisted he was “taking care of it” and refused to take their advice or assistance. This June, he crawled into bed while she was sleeping and shot her, then himself.

The Shavers’ children seem eager to read their father’s act as one of tenderness, which may have affected the way Knoll framed the story. “So common, yet so personally cruel — [dementia] comes with no road map for those tending to the afflicted,” she writes. The piece doesn’t make it clear whether Alma might have once made an end-of-life plan with her husband, and it could be impossible to know now that both parties are dead. But the critics who found fault with the piece say the way the story is told exemplifies everything wrong with how the media covers crimes against disabled people.

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Sweethearts Forever. Then Came Alzheimer’s, Murder and Suicide.

Mr. and Mrs. Shaver dancing

“They were absolutely soul mates.”


It began almost playfully, like tiny hiccups in her mind. She would forget she had already changed the sheets and change them again, or repeat a thought in the same breath.

Then the illness amplified.

She grew confused by everyday tasks. Became convinced her parents were still alive and insisted upon a visit. At social gatherings, she was anxious and fearful. She forgot how to sew and cross-stitch. Forgot the faces of her children.

She did remember her name. Alma Shaver. But not her age. Eighty.

And sometimes, she did not know her husband.

He was Richard Shaver, a man whose wife of 60 years had been found by dementia, that thief that robs the minds of 50 million people worldwide. So common, yet so personally cruel — it comes with no road map for those tending to the afflicted.

For a while, Mr. Shaver managed. He would sit next to his wife and rub her hand, her knee, to try to calm the unease. He left notes explaining simple tasks. If she was stuck repeating herself, he asked yes or no questions to break the cycle. Did you graduate in 1957, Alma? Why, yes.

When visiting family, he picked out her clothes, usually the beige sweatshirt with the collar and a bird stitched on the front. He resorted to fast food in the drive-through lane so she wouldn’t have to get out of the car.

By the spring of this year, things had gotten worse, as they always do with an illness that takes and takes and takes. Ms. Shaver had slipped beyond a murky fog that her husband could not join.

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Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council releases report on sexual abuse of Arizonans with disabilities


2019 ADDPC recommendations on preventing abuse
Cover page of the report produced by the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

The Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (ADDPC) has released a special report with recommendations for the Arizona State Legislature and Arizona state agencies to prevent sexual abuse of Arizonans with developmental disabilities.

While the recent crisis at Hacienda HealthCare continues to draw attention to problems within Arizona’s current system of monitoring and reporting sexual abuse of people with disabilities, almost no formal policies designed to recognize and prevent such abuse exist. The Council’s report is called “Sexual Abuse of Arizonans with Developmental and Other Disabilities” and it contains specific actions that state agencies and care providers can take to prevent the sexual abuse of vulnerable adults.

Read the ADDPC report: Sexual Abuse of Arizonans with Developmental and Other Disabilities


Massachusetts urges hospitals to better prepare for dementia patients

Hospitals frighten many patients but they can be especially confusing and traumatic for people with dementia. According to a story for the Boston Globe by Felice J. Freyer, hospitals in Massachusetts are making an effort to better accommodate patients with memory loss. Freyer reports that the loud, high-tech hospital environment is disorienting to patients with “fragile minds,” and staff frequently rely on sedatives to calm confused patients. Freyer interviewed family caregivers, Alzheimer’s advocacy groups and hospital executives to learn more about the problem and how hospitals are making improvements.