Courtesy Alzheimer's Association
By Deborah Waskow (as told to Lambeth Hochwald)
In 2015, Deborah Waskow was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She was just 59. Now 62, Waskow lives with her husband, Dan, in Bryan, Texas. She serves as an Early Stage Advisor for the Alzheimer’s Association; she helps educate people about the disease. Waskow shares her story:
Three years ago, I was working as a legal assistant. For a year or longer, my work was beginning to suffer. I finally got to the point where I couldn’t concentrate—one of the early signs that something was wrong. I was forgetting things all the time. One day, I threw the papers on my desk up in the air and told my office manager, “I can’t do this anymore.” Legal work is complicated, and you have to have a good brain to do that work.
Soon after I left my job, I talked to my primary care doctor about my family’s history of Alzheimer’s; my father and grandfather had it and my mom is currently living with the disease. I was sent to another doctor who performed cognitive tests and a PET scan. The tests confirmed it: I have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Needless to say, my life has changed. My husband retired soon after my diagnosis, so we spend a lot of time together. I write on my blog on Facebook. Instead of going to work, I spend my days having lunch with my friends and visiting my mother who lives an hour’s drive away. I was able to drive to see her up until recently, when I’ve gotten lost a couple of times. The situation wasn’t terrible, but I’d gotten turned around enough that it scared me. I don’t drive out of town anymore. I stay in town and I can do things like drive to the grocery store and back. I’m okay with that. (These are the 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.)
One way my life has really changed is that I no longer bake. I used to love making cakes, pies, and cookies, but I had to stop because I kept forgetting the ingredients. My husband even went and bought different measuring cups and he told me to put flour in one cup and sugar in another, but it’s hard to follow the recipes—even ones I’ve made for years.
I am a very independent person. I spent time as a single mother to my son after my first marriage broke up (and before I met Dan). I loved my self-reliance, but now I have to give up some of that independence. I’m okay with letting my husband take care of things like chores and paying bills. We mostly do the grocery shopping together now because I forget the list. (Look out for these 6 signs that forgetfulness may indicate Alzheimer’s.)
Planning for the future
Right now, Dan and I are enjoying life while we can. You hear about people saving money for trips years down the road. We’re not waiting; we take a trip every year. We went on an amazing train trip to Alaska last year. We recently did a fall colors trip to Boston and Maine.
I’m not scared. We’re just taking it one day at a time. What makes me sad is my husband’s sorrow. I hate to think of his future without me. But I kind of know what’s coming: I’ve seen my dad, grandfather, and mom go through this, and I know what to expect.
Dan says he wants to take care of me as long as he can, but I’ve already told him I don’t want him to do that for too long. I told him I will go to a facility. That’s the one thing about Alzheimer’s. You have time to prepare.
The one thing I wish I could change is people’s reaction when I tell them I have Alzheimer’s. They shut down. I can still talk; it’s not like all of a sudden I can’t remember anything. This happened with my dad. He was a college professor, he was very social, and he had lots of friends. When he got Alzheimer’s and had to retire, his friends wouldn’t come to visit him. I think people get scared. Instead, they should learn more about Alzheimer’s and realize that people with the disease can still socialize. We need to make the most of life for as long as we can.
Next, read about the 50 everyday habits that can reduce your risk of dementia.