Joan Lunden Takes on Yet Another Role: Family Caregiver

Millions of Americans spent 17 years saying good morning to Joan Lunden. Since vacating her anchor chair at ABC, Lunden has single-handedly built a successful business empire, which allows her to continue to grace the airwaves and connect with her fans. Behind closed doors, Lunden is tackling another issue that not only weighs heavily on her heart but also forced her into uncharted territory: Taking care of her 93-year-old mother who has dementia. An edited version of our phone interview with her follows.

by Ilyssa Panitz • Celebrity Reporter
joan lunden and her mom image
Joan Lunden, left, with her mom Gladyce Blunden.
Photograph: Ida Astute

More: You also lost your father when you were 14 years old after he was killed in a plane crash. When you got the news about your mom's dementia, were you angry?
JL: The only thing I was angry about was that I hadn’t prepared myself. I was living back east when this was all happening, and they were out west. When I got there, I took a deep breath and said, “OK, let’s focus on what we need to get done.” When it came time to find a place for her to live, I was clueless. I wasn’t in tune with her physical and medical needs at the time.

More: How did you tell your husband you were assuming this massive responsibility?
JL: Interestingly, my husband knew I took care of my mom and my brother. He also takes care of his parents, so we were both in the same situation. 

More: How are you doing since your brother Jeff’s passing?
JL: He had been so ill. He got this disease in his late twenties, and it ravaged his body. He had many surgeries on his hands, he almost lost a foot and his sight, and it is also a disease that ravages the blood vessels in your body. By the time he was in his 30s, he had difficulty standing, he got migraine headaches and found it tough to hold down a job. He had all of the complications of type 2 diabetes that you could have. His life was completely dictated by the disease. He had such a tough life.

More: Were you and your brother close?
JL: My mom miscarried four times. When she was 30 years old, she and my dad decided they would adopt. They took my brother home when he was three days old. Then, unbeknownst to her, she got pregnant with me. My brother and I were seven months and 29 days apart. Because we were so close in age, we were raised as twins and did everything together.

More: What have you learned from taking this journey with your mom?
JL: Don’t just find your loved one a place and put them there. Go and visit as many facilities as possible. The more places you visit, the more you will get to know the staff, and the more they will get to know your loved one. Educate the staff on your loved one so they feel more connected and will want to give more attention to him or her. Another thing I discovered: The actual move is very difficult on them. They wake up one day and think, "Where am I?" To make my mom’s transition easier, we went around her room and took pictures of how it looked so we could re-create that exact room in her new home.

More: Are you at peace with this decision?
JL: It is the most unnatural passage you could go through. To me, the hardest life passage was this one because it feels so awkward. You spend your entire life as the child, and now you need to act as the parent and talk to them as if they were the child. I discovered having professional guidance can really help with the transition. You should also get an elder lawyer to help get all of your paperwork in order.

More: How did life change after your dad passed?
JL: My dad’s death when I was only 14 was incredibly life changing for all of us. My mom immediately became the head of the household and had to go back into the workforce. She needed to completely transform who she was. Watching that completely defined me in so many ways.

More: Speaking of moms, not only are you the mother of seven children, but you also blended two families.
JL: I am lucky in that sense. Not only does my husband have a great relationship with my older girls from my first marriage, but my daughters also don’t feel like this is Mommy’s other family. They are so much a part of our lives and have a great relationship with the four younger ones.

First Published March 15, 2012

Share Your Thoughts!


Brandon Stone06.28.2013

There are plenty of senior living options, I'm glad that this one seems to be the right one for her as she beings to delve into them.

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