John was working in his yard when he hit his head, causing a concussion.

“My wife said, ‘You seem to be getting confused, and sometimes you don’t finish sentences,’” John said. “I didn’t buy that, but she just wanted me to go to our family physician to talk about it.”

When the family physician referred him to a specialist, John said he thought it was because the concussion may have been causing problems. The specialist asked John to complete a test counting backward from 100 by 7.

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“You have to understand, the doctor, nurse practitioner, two interns and my wife were in there, and I felt like a fly under a microscope,” John said. “I didn’t do very well, and I was in finance all my life. I went from 100 to 93 pretty easily, and then I got to 86 and that was about it.”

John completed a series of other tests, such as drawing certain times on a clock, which he also said they told him he struggled with. The doctor asked him to undergo an MRI scan of his brain.

“I went back to the doctor’s office with my daughter and my wife, and the doctor said ‘Everything conclusively points to you having Alzheimer’s,’” John said. “At that point, my mouth dropped, and I thought ‘What? Alzheimer’s?’”

John said his wife and daughter began to cry, which made him misty eyed. The doctor told them he’d be back after dropping a prescription for John down the hall.

“I followed him down the hall,” John said. “You know sometimes you can do that with a doctor, and they’ll turn around and say, ‘it’s really not as bad as you think it is.’ But he never did that.”

That was May of 2017. John was diagnosed with the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease. Kindred Healthcare is a national partner of the Alzheimer’s Association, and that’s how we met John, who came and spoke to us about why it’s important to participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Adapting to a New Normal

John worked in finance for Chevron Oil Company for 31 years, which is where he met his wife, Linda. John said he knew there was a problem when he was unable to do his taxes. He’d been doing them his whole life, and as he sat down to look at his spreadsheet, he didn’t know what to do.

This is a common occurrence in those living with dementia. Simple math and tasks like balancing a checkbook typically are the first signs of a larger problem.

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John said he noticed there were some problems when he attended a high school basketball tournament with a friend. John is a lifelong sports fans and attends as many games as he can.

“At the tournament, I went to use the restroom and as I was washing my hands, I heard a voice say, ‘Do you need some paper towels?’” John said. “I looked over and it was a policeman. He said, ‘Have you been drinking tonight?’”

John, of course, had not. The police officer asked John if he was taking any medication he should know about. John is on a very common medication for Alzheimer’s that helps preserve your memory. The police officer apologized and explained that John looked unstable on his feet and that to protect himself and the other patrons at the game, he had to ask. The officer advised John to get a bracelet that had his health status, allergies, and emergency contact on it.

John also had to give up driving . Now, Linda drives him to his church group and to run errands, and his friends will come pick him up to attend sporting events.

“I had to get a walker because my doctor told me if I fell, it could be very dangerous for me,” John said. “I always think ‘Do I really need to do that?’ and my wife says yes. She’s the boss. You know the old saying goes, ‘happy wife, happy life,’ so that’s what I try to do.”

John said his best advice is to open up and talk about your experience so people can understand what you’re going through. He also suggested having a strong support base – the more people, the better. John said he feels that a lot of people with Alzheimer’s may be ashamed of it, but this inspires him to work with people who may not be as accepting of it.

“I don’t care who knows. I mean, I’ve got it,” John said. “I went through periods of depression, but that was early on. I’d look at other people and wonder ‘why me?’ But it’s like Jim Valvano said, ‘I’ll never give up,’ and that’s how it’s going to be for me.”

John and Linda have been married for 37 years.

“We have a good relationship, and it takes that to get through this,” John said. “When the time comes, she’s going to need support from our children and her two sisters. I’m supporting her now, and I pull her out of those down times she might get like I get. I made this vow to her, and I will never give up.”

Planning for the Future

John and Linda live in Kentucky, and their children live in Louisiana and Texas. John said he told Linda they needed to sit down and outline things they can take care of now.

“Now is the time to do it, not when the worst comes down the road,” John said. “That’s why we sold the car, bought our cemetery plots and looked at nursing homes.”

John said he hated giving up his car because he felt that he gave up a lot of freedom that way. John plans to stay at home as long as possible because he and Linda love the house and subdivision where they are and are happy to not have to do yardwork. He installed a chair-lift in case the time comes when he isn’t able to walk up and down stairs. And he also spoke with his family members separately to discuss the future.

“I know that day will come when the way you see me now may not be the way you see me down the road,” John said he told them. “I may get to the point where I don’t know you, but you’re going to have to realize that and know that I am what I am now.”

Seeing the impact on his family has the biggest impact on John.

Relying on Community Resources

John contacted the Alzheimer’s Association and asked how to get involved. He learned about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and decided to participate and fundraise.

“That’s a way I can help. I don’t think people really start to know about or grasp Alzheimer’s until they see someone with it,” John said. “Somewhere out there, there’s a first survivor of Alzheimer’s – why not me?”

John said he wants to make people aware, even though it can be difficult to hear about what the person, their family and their friends have to go through.

Finding the Beauty in Life

John tells people that life is like a highway. As you travel along the highway, there’s going to be potholes like you get after a bad winter. How you’re measured in life is how you navigate around those potholes.

“I could always do that very well, and I’m really proud of myself in that,” John said. “I ran into a pothole I couldn’t control, and that was when I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I have no control over that, especially when it gets to the late stages. But I can control how I get there. That’s why I goof around and laugh because right now I know what’s coming.”

If you have a loved one like John, and you have healthcare questions, call us at 1.866.KINDRED to speak with a Registered Nurse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We're here to listen, and we can help walk you through resources and care options in your area.

By Blair Klayko