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Don's Story
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San Diego, Calif.
Living with Alzheimer's: 1 year

Don participates in SignOnSanDiego.com's "Journey through Alzheimer's" Weblog. Below is what appears on his "About Don" page. Don also has his own blog called The Trip Over.

Saturday, March 11, 2006:

The quiet after the storm: It's raining in San Diego – finally.

It's quiet now, water trickles down the spout and drops are still splattering from the eves. It's soothing. I slept well, better than any night the past week. A warm glow, an inner peace fills me. I'm content and happy.

It's a strange after effect of the news I received yesterday. I don't yet fully understand it, but after the first shock of the news that I had Alzheimer's and a moment of sadness and fear, this sudden wave of peace and serenity
swept over me.

Dr. Don Hayen, a retired North County dermatologist, is chronicling his dance with the dreaded Alzheimer's disease in a blog he calls The Trip Over.

While it helps give him perspective in dealing with the disease, he hopes the journal also helps others. He said he's corresponded with people as far away as Lebanon and New Zealand.

The early signs that something was wrong with him were subtle, according to the 73-year-old. "I was getting angry a lot. I would fly off the handle at the grandkids." He also got lost driving down familiar streets.

His first thoughts after being diagnosed were of some of his shut-in patients "lying there like vegetables." (Yes, he used to make house calls.) But the darkness didn't last.

"You can either just roll over and let it come or begin living your life because you're not dead," he told me in the living room of his Lake San Marcos condo. After the diagnosis, Don and his wife, Jane, sold their four-bedroom
home in Carlsbad and bought the smaller.

Ironically, there are pluses to Alzheimer's, according to Don. He said he's become more focused on what's important to him. "I stay in contact with everybody I love."

At first, he was afraid his friends might avoid him. "But I was upfront, with a little humor." And they responded with their continued support.

"I still have my down times," Don admitted. "But I don't think this (disease) has stopped me in my tracks."

In fact, he's making tracks educating the public about this thing most people don't want to think about. Unfortunately, he pointed out, the incidence of Alzheimer's increases with age. About half the people that reach 85 can expect to get it, he said, and statistics from the Alzheimer's Association confirm the fact.

"This catastrophe could be averted with more research....There's an answer out there."

For now, he emphasizes the value of early diagnosis. "It makes all the difference to be prepared and plan the rest of your life."

Knowing what he's up against, he wrote in his blog, "I've had time to prepare; mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, for what is to come. I've adapted to living today, as if it is my last."

As soon as he started the meds, the anger stopped. As for brain function, "Relative to the world, I'm still in the normal range, because I started out with a high intellect."

Don exercises his mind by doing Sudoku puzzles and writing he's on his second novel. He exercises his body doing water aerobics and playing golf.

The father of two and grandpa of six still drives –  he doesn't get lost anymore – but said he'll quit as soon as he or others feel he's slipping.

He wrote in his blog, "It's strange, but being diagnosed with Alzheimer's has made a profound difference in me – for the better!

"I'm gonna die? So what!"

He confided, "When I was younger, I was always waiting for or reaching for another goal, instead of living in the moment.

"I'm comfortable with where I'm at. I'm not preoccupied with something you can't control."

That's good advice for all of us.

Marsha Kay Seff
Eldercare Editor



Alzheimer's Association

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Formed in 1980, the Alzheimer's Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research.