When repeated memory lapses led him to consult with a family friend who happens to be a neurologist, Mike Van Der Bosch was not expecting to hear that, at age 53, he was living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Even though his own father had died at age 71 from dementia, Mike couldn’t have imagined the changes that lay ahead. Along with his wife, Suzy, his life was full with his longtime successful career in the telecommunications industry and three active sons in elementary and middle school.
Now, four years later, life is different in many ways for the Denver-based Van Der Bosch family but, Mike is determined to keep their lives as normal as possible. As he likes to say, “If someone tells me I can’t do something, I tell them, ‘watch me.’”
Meeting Alzheimer’s head-on
A relentless optimist, Mike is focused on meeting Alzheimer’s head-on. He understands what he’s facing and he’s committed to coming out on top. He’s adopted a vigorous exercise regimen that includes mountain biking, hiking, skiing, golfing and exercising in his home gym. He’s modified his diet to fill it with foods he may have ignored in the past: fruits and vegetables. He has an active social circle that forms a positive support network. And he commits time to Suzy and his sons.
In addition, he’s involved in a clinical trial for the Alzheimer’s medication lecanemab, which has shown promise in slowing the progression of the disease.
But parts of Mike’s life have changed. His career has come to a halt and he’s now on disability. He abides by strict limits on his driving, often biking to see one or more of his sons’ lacrosse competitions. But he chafes at the driving restrictions that keep him close to home during the day and off the road at night.
Finding the positives
If you listen to Mike, there are more positives in his life than negatives, with a particular focus on his family. He beams with pride that sons Jack and Charlie, now a junior and freshman at Regis Jesuit High School, are both on the varsity lacrosse team while seventh-grader Will is likely to follow in their footsteps.
He proudly notes how Suzy has reentered the workforce after years of being at home with her young children to help support the family. This while managing the bulk of day-to-day family affairs, which have been expanded due to the limits on Mike’s driving.
“I totally overachieved marrying her,” Mike said of his wife. “It’s hard for her with all the added stress. I’m fortunate to have a good family, good friends, and a good support system.”
And Mike is taking advantage of the “free time” that comes with his diagnosis. When he’s not getting exercise or watching his sons compete in sporting events, he’s found a new passion: giving back.
In recent months, Mike has decided to make a direct contribution to the effort to stop Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to his participation in a drug trial, he is volunteering his time in the Alzheimer's Association office in Denver to support the staff’s efforts.
“I work out, I’m in a drug trial and I volunteer,” Mike said. “I want to blaze a path so that the people behind me (with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis) will be in a better situation.
“I’m optimistic,” he added. “Look at cancer. You can get a diagnosis (for cancer) and it’s not automatically a death sentence. If we put our mind to it, get more money for research and create more visibility around this disease, we can make progress.”
“It has been wonderful to have Mike in the office,” said Bobbie D’Addario, Program Volunteer coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado. “He is open to sharing his story with the other volunteers and they enjoy working with him. Mike is always smiling and happy to do whatever is needed on any given day. One of our volunteers, who lost his brother to Alzheimer’s at a young age, is especially passionate about working with Mike.”
So, in the weeks, months and years to come, expect to see Mike Van Der Bosch biking around the foothills, watching his boys excel at lacrosse, partnering with Suzy, and making a difference at the Alzheimer’s Association. And he’ll be taking promising medications that he believes may alter the course of his disease.
“I don’t like to bet against myself,” he says with certainty.
The Alzheimer's Association leads the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's and all other dementia.™ For more information, visit www.alz.org or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.