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Rev. Pat Robertson admitted his advice on divorcing Alzheimer's sufferers "sounds cruel."
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updated 9/15/2011 5:16:34 AM ET 2011-09-15T09:16:34

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson told his "700 Club" viewers that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's is justifiable because the disease is "a kind of death."

During the portion of the show where the one-time Republican presidential candidate takes questions from viewers, Robertson was asked what advice a man should give to a friend who began seeing another woman after his wife started suffering from the incurable neurological disorder.

"I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her," Robertson said.

The chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, which airs the "700 Club," said he wouldn't "put a guilt trip" on anyone who divorces a spouse who suffers from the illness, but added, "Get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer."

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Story: 'Til death': Unless you have Alzheimer's?

Most Christian denominations at least discourage divorce, citing Jesus' words in the Gospel of Mark that equate divorce and remarriage with adultery.

Terry Meeuwsen, Robertson's co-host, asked him about couples' marriage vows to take care of each other "for better or for worse" and "in sickness and in health."

"If you respect that vow, you say 'til death do us part,'" Robertson said during the Tuesday broadcast. "This is a kind of death."

A network spokesman said Wednesday that Robertson had no further statement.

Disease rarely leads to split
Divorce is uncommon among couples where one partner is suffering from Alzheimer's, said Beth Kallmyer, director of constituent services for the Alzheimer's Association, which provides resources to sufferers and their families.

"We don't hear a lot of people saying 'I'm going to get divorced,'" she told The Associated Press.

"Families typically respond the way they do to any other fatal disease," she added.

Story: Early Alzheimer's disclosures to become more common

The stress can be significant in marriages though, Kallmyer said, because it results in the gradual loss of a person's mental faculties.

"The caregiving can be really stressful on a couple of levels," she said.

Story: Who wants to live forever? Scientist sees aging cured

"There's the physical level. There's also the emotional level of feeling like you're losing that person you love," Kallmyer said.

As a result, she said, it's important for couples to make decisions about care together in the early stages of the illness, when its effects aren't as prominent.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: New treatment for Alzheimer’s ‘promising’

  1. Closed captioning of: New treatment for Alzheimer’s ‘promising’

    >> a big health news story. as we mentioned earlier tonight we have the first glimmer of hope in the fight against alzheimer 's in a long time. while there, of course, is no cure and while it's hard to find an american family without some connection to alzheimer 's, a new study funded by the national institutes of health has found that an insulin nasal spray , of all things, has shown memory improvement in some patients. research like this is a prong of the administration's effort to develop the first so-called national alzheimer 's plan and we get our report tonight from our chief science correspondent robert bazell .

    >> i'm going to demonstrate for you --

    >> reporter: it could be a dramatic new treatment for alzheimer 's disease.

    >> it's very promising. we're very excited about it. we'd like to see it move forward into a larger trial.

    >> reporter: dr. suzanne craft and her team gave volunteers a dose of a special insulin nasal spray or a placebo. the 104 participants had alzheimer 's or, like john martin , prealzheimer's memory problems. after four months, three-quarters of people getting the insulin spray did better on memory tests.

    >> children saw lions --

    >> reporter: and on scans showing brain changes that signal memory loss .

    >> we were surprised by how many of the participants benefitted.

    >> reporter: why insulin? recent studies show a strong connection between insulin resistance and many symptoms of alzheimer 's disease. insulin helps the body use sugar. if that doesn't happen properly in the brain it can lead to memory loss . in this experiment the scientists used the spray to get insulin into the scieninuses.

    >> it reaches the brain quickly.

    >> reporter: people should not try to treat alzheimer 's with insulin used to treat buy details. it could be dangerous or life thenning. a longer study should reveal whether the hopeful beginning marks genuine progress against a heart-breaking disease that so far has been unstoppable.

    >> here's the device.

    >> reporter: robert bazell , nbc news, new york.

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