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In My Community
Mike Grassel - Dementia is Not My Obstacle
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(left) Mike, Julie, Stephanie and Nick Grassel

Mike Grassel’s life changed forever when he was a sophomore in college. He suffered a traumatic frontal lobe brain injury from a car accident. “Mike was sitting in the passenger’s seat,” said his wife, Julie.  “A tire came off of an oncoming car on the freeway. The tire flew over the median and through the windshield and hit Mike in the head, causing his brain injury.”
 The accident was a cruel interruption in a budding romance.  Julie and Mike were college sweethearts. They met when they were 18 on the first day of classes at UW-Milwaukee.  They have been best friends ever since.  Today, their love remains strong, and Julie calls Mike her “walking miracle”!

Despite medical challenges, Mike was determined to complete his degree.  He received support from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Julie and their families.  Mike built a career, as a Managerial Executive Assistant. The couple went about living their lives, getting married and raising two wonderful children, Stephanie and Nick.  Family is the most important thing to Julie and Mike.  Mike is a very engaged parent, and coached most of the kid's sports when they were little.  Stephanie and Nick have also been really supportive of both their parents on this journey and have chosen career paths to help others.

Twenty years after the accident Mike experienced additional medical complications.  He is now 49, and has been diagnosed with progressive dementia.  But he hasn’t missed a beat. “Due to my dementia, I had to adjust my career to fit my abilities,” Mike said.  “I currently work at Walgreens.  I want to thank them for all that they have done.  They make it possible for me to feel productive and help people every day. They are my work family.”

He remains positive and regularly attends the Early- Stage support group at the Alzheimer’s Association.  Mike describes the group as a team that cheers each other on.  “My memory group is like family to me. I can’t always grab onto words” he said. “But here, people understand. It’s a normal thing.  We focus on what we CAN do, not what we can’t do.”

For over two years, Mike and Julie have been very involved in activities and programs offered through the Alzheimer’s Association including the Early-Stage support group, a monthly Memory Café, Memories in the Making art program, SPARK, and lots of social activities. In 2014, the couple participated in a panel discussion at the Wisconsin Network Conference on Alzheimer's Disease.   They will return to the 2015 conference to share their insights on living with dementia as part of the closing keynote address to nearly 1000 participants.
 
“When people have Alzheimer’s and dementia, they are going to live better lives and feel more positive about themselves when they know that they have hope and that people care about them,” said Mike.  “Until I joined this memory group, I thought of dementia as an obstacle.  Now I look at this obstacle and turn it into an opportunity.  Even though I have dementia, I can live a full productive life with help from my family and friends.”

Mike manages to keep very busy.  In addition to work, he also volunteers with his therapy dog.  “We visit Alzheimer’s and dementia patients at nursing homes, he explained.  “It’s great to see people with Alzheimer’s and dementia happy at all stages.”

Mike and Julie Grassel continuously think of new ways to become involved and give back.  The couple, along with daughter Stephanie and her boyfriend, Mark, will travel to Washington, D.C.  at the end of the month to speak to legislators on Capitol Hill as part of the Alzheimer’s Association Advocacy Forum.  “We are thrilled to be advocates for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” said Julie.   “We all have a common cause - to get rid of this disease.”  “The Alzheimer’s Association has just been awesome, said Mike. “ “They have opened my world to all of the possibilities that life still has to offer me.   With their help, I feel like I can live a happy, normal life.” 

        

Mike and his therapy dog, Phoebe                                              

Mike paints in the Memories in the Making program


 

Alzheimer's Association

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