Maureen McGovern's journey with dementia
February 16, 2023
Maureen McGovern is a superstar with a lifetime of music that spans Broadway, Grammy nominations and an Oscar-winning International #1 Gold Record. Maureen has recently been diagnosed with dementia and is sharing her journey with us, along with providing wonderful tips on how she improves your daily wellbeing that she has incorporated into her life.
What were your early symptoms that made you think it might be Alzheimer’s Disease/dementia?
I would say it started back when I was in San Francisco following a week in New York doing a cabaret show. I just started to have trouble recalling words for things and having difficulty finding my words but it was infrequent, just every once in a while.
I originally I felt like “Good grief Maureen, you are getting old” but I remember saying to my musicians that I don’t know what is happening, that something was off. Their response was “maybe you are just tired”, but I felt that something else was going on. Very slowly it became more frequent.
The following year I performed a Christmas show in Florida and toward the end of the show, I could not recall the name of my musical director and I was mortified. At that moment, everything in my head went blank, this was 10 years ago.
I accommodated with written reminders, written scripts, and asked a lot of questions because I would forget what was coming next in the show or our next destination in the tour. I saw my doctor and had neuro evaluations done with cognitive testing. At that time my results were said to be normal.
In the spring of 2019, I had a car accident that did real damage to my car but no one was injured. I began stumbling on song introductions and sometimes words to songs.
Then that summer I performed in a one night only musical in New York with all cast members “on book”. I had significant difficulty reading lines and remembering cues. It was at this point that I knew something more than forgetfulness or just aging was going on. I couldn’t do stage productions any longer. Then the Covid pandemic hit the world and that is when I really began to feel real changes. Words became even more difficult to find, mathematics, never a strong suit of mine, really became challenging and my depth perception had changed. I had a driving evaluation which did not go in my favor and repeat cognitive testing and MRIs began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
How did you feel when you were provided with the diagnosis?
I think that I knew but didn’t want to believe. At first, I was diagnosed with Posterior Cortical Atrophy with mild cognitive changes. Meaning that just the posterior lobe of my brain was involved. But as time has gone on, my MRIs began to show changes across the brain and the Doctor’s have diagnosed my condition as Alzheimer’s disease. I can say that my feeling at that time was dread. It’s scary and I was stunned.
How did you discuss the diagnosis with your family members?
My closest relative is my sister, it is just the two of us, our parents have been deceased many years. My sister is a nurse and has been helping me along the way. I have been very honest with her and she with me. She has accompanied me to doctor’s appointments and has helped me understand the diagnosis. Having traveled so extensively throughout my career, many of my friends and co-workers are family to me. They have been invaluable in helping me sort through this process and provide sincere steadfast support. I have gradually shared my diagnosis more publicly. I recently posted information on my website to explain what I am going through to friends and fans more broadly.
What does your daily life look like now?
I have some routines as most people do, I set my alarm to be up at a certain time, I eat meals at a regular time, I stay in touch with friends, and keep up with the world through TV news and a few favorites shows. I listen to music and sing during the day to continue to keep my pipes in good shape. I exercise and sing to keep my voice fresh. I am blessed to have family and friends.
At Relish we ask our community to share their tips to help others:
What do you do to keep independent?
I really work at this because I have been independent all my life. I have moved into a safer setting that provides meals and transportation and I am eternally grateful to family and friends that keep me in the loop.
How do you keep your sense of identity?
I have been told that I have been a singer since I was a baby in a crib singing to everyone at all hours of the day and night! So that is who I am. That brings me joy. To this day I sing at all hours of the day and night. My very gracious neighbors don’t seem to mind!
How do you keep your relationships strong?
I have lived in major cities and have traveled the globe for more than 50 years. I have worked with so many wonderful people that have meant the world to me. I am being blessed now by people I haven’t seen or talked with in many years that have reached out to share their memories of times we may have worked together or collaborated on projects and to share their messages of hope. I am blessed.
Do you have tips on how to keep calm or relaxed?
This is not something that comes naturally to me. I have been on the go throughout my entire career. I do try to make time for listening to music that calms the soul and I enjoy creating colorful, detailed pieces of art. This is very soothing to me.
How do you find joy?
I am blessed with a view from my home that has an expansive skyline, I see the sunrise and moonrise and all of the colors of all of the seasons, they are breathtaking. Every day I wake up and there is joy in that, it’s another chance to get it right.
Do you enjoy keeping active?
Active in music. Active in world events. Active in the lives of friends and family. I do this by going out to lunch, performing for my neighbors, attending grand-nieces and nephews soccer games, attending performances, going to museums, etc. I am also keeping active in my career. I am working on creating more children’s music and writing a book that tells the story of my life and career.
What motivates you?
My drive is that I feel that I have unfinished business. I have plans to continue recording music with uplifting messages to give hope and healing to others, young and old, that are experiencing difficulties and losses in their own lives.
Is there a tip or something that you would say to someone that has just been diagnosed with dementia?
As early as possible, identify a trusted individual to be designated as your Power of Attorney so that you control that process. Get your paperwork and legal affairs in order so that you do not have to worry about these things as time goes by. Have frank conversations with that designee as to what your wishes are for your future.
Try to simplify things around you and remember be grateful that tomorrow is another day. Keep going. You can do it!