Abbe Smerling and Judy Roeder, close friends for 30 years, raised their children, vacationed and celebrated holidays together. Abbe hosted the wedding rehearsal dinner for Judy’s daughter. “It was one of the best parties we ever had at our house,” Abbe says.
Now, after sharing many milestones in their lives, the two, who both live in the Boston area, have entered a new chapter in their friendship. About eight years ago, Judy, 75 years old and a former psychotherapist, was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, which progressed to Alzheimer’s. Abbe, 70, has remained at her side, taking her on road trips, on weekend retreats, and to events at their temple.
“I just want to make her happy,” Abbe says.
Many longtime friends are at similar crossroads as more people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia. An estimated 6.2 million Americans age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s and the number is expected to double by 2050 to 12.7 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The disease has no known cure, but loneliness was associated with a 40% increased risk of dementia, according to a 2018 study published in Innovations in Aging. A 2019 study found that among those with Alzheimer’s disease, having a close circle of friends is linked to better cognition. Maintaining those friendships, however, requires resolve and commitment.