Keith was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2018 at age 57.
The room feels smaller than I remember it being. Posters line the wall, skeletons with names and phrases that I can’t comprehend. A familiar face appears in the doorway and enters the room. I instinctively grab my wife Sheri’s hand as we await the news that we are dreading but feel is about to be confirmed.
“Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. And Alzheimer’s. Usually not seen together, but in your case, well, I guess you are special.”
My wife starts to cry. I’m trying to be strong, but tears start to slide down my cheek. My mom’s side of the family has a strong history of Alzheimer’s, so I always knew that this could be a possibility. Couple that with the knowledge that a traumatic brain injury I sustained while serving in the U.S. Army had left a sign of atrophy in the region where people with dementia commonly see issues, and suddenly destiny felt very real.
For the next few minutes, we let out all the frustrations and misery that we are feeling. Then my wife says: “We’re going to fight this. I’ll be by your side all the way. I love you, babe.”
I knew she would be. Just six weeks after we were married, I had suffered a third stroke. It left me weak on the left side and unable to speak. Eventually I regained both losses, but she took better care of me once I was released from the hospital than anyone ever could have.
After lots of encouragement from her, four years after that third stroke, I returned to the workforce as an analyst in the finance department of the largest consumer power tools company. Life seemed great. Two years later, we bought a consignment shop and built it up, doubling sales in our first year of business. My job often required 60+ hours of my workweek, so my wife had to tackle most of the shop responsibilities. She had always wanted to have a consignment shop boutique and finally she was living her dream! And I was living mine.
Then came June 26, 2018. The day of my diagnosis.
Now, just 16 months later, we are continuing the fight in a different way. In June of 2019, I was elected to serve on the Alzheimer’s Association Early-Stage Advisory Group. I had already become active with my local chapter and had given four speeches about living with Alzheimer’s. Now, as a member of the Early-Stage group, my platform would be increasing, and so would my wife’s workload.
In addition to making her voice heard as a caregiver in a variety of ways, Sheri has also picked up the chores that I once covered, such as helping with cooking (I’m an avid cook and baker), financials, and the one thing I hated to give up the most, driving. My ability to concentrate has gotten to the point where it is no longer safe for me to drive, so Sheri had taken on the burden of getting me everywhere I need to be.
She has recently told me that she is willing to sell the consignment shop, which was her dream for so many years. I asked her why and she said that it was because she has seen the decline in my mental faculties and knows that without a cure, our time is limited. She wants us to be able to enjoy the rest of the years we have together, especially while I am still aware of what is going on and can contribute socially in my life and personal care.
I feel as though she got a raw deal, but she thinks differently. She says she feels like she won the lottery when she won my love.
I do feel a certain peace knowing that I have such a strong woman by my side. Yes, she is my care partner, but she is the love of my life, my rock, my fortress, my forever love.
As we celebrate caregivers this month, I pray for two things:
1. That we will soon see an end to this disease so that caregivers for people living with dementia will not be needed anymore.
2. That those living with the disease have someone like my wife to help make the journey one that does not create a foreboding future, but instead a lifetime of gathered memories.
Until then, tell someone who is fighting the fight that you’re there for them. Support those who are pouring their hearts out for someone that is going through this disease.
I honor my wife and all care partners and caregivers like her. Let’s do all we can to end Alzheimer’s — together!
About: Keith and his wife Sheri live in Anderson, South Carolina. They have two sons and four dogs. As a member of the 2019-2020 Early-Stage Advisors Group, Keith wants to help doctors understand the importance of disclosing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and direct other families to the best available resources.
Honor a Caregiver