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North Texas Family Hit Hard by Alzheimer's

MANSFIELD, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - More support for Alzheimer's is on the way.

Governor Abbott recently signed a law requiring state health officials to come up with a five year plan to study the impact of the disease and improve services. Advocates say the extra support can't come fast enough. Alzheimer's is already at epidemic proportions, and the numbers keep rising.

"It became a part of my life from the very beginning," says Megan Bryant of Mansfield. "When I was 10, my parents had a talk with me about my grandfather... how he was asking me questions, same questions that he just asked me five minutes ago, and they could tell that I was noticing things."

At the time she had no idea of just how the awful Alzheimer's would become.

"He had this fish pond and we would go hour after hour to feed those fish... poor fish," she recalls, with a soft chuckle competing with the tears. "I thought it was funny, now... not so much."

Then, last year, she began noticing that her mother's memory was slipping.

"She lost her car in the parking lot, having difficulty at work... forgetting things: she missed a connecting flight at the airport, things that were totally not normal for her," says Megan. "I think because I had lost my grandfather, I was kind of done laughing about it, I was afraid immediately."

Her worst fears were soon realized: her mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's, at 53.

"She can't drive. She has lost her job as well... things are kind of snowballing. We weren't expecting it at her age."

According to the Alzheimer's Association, it is a disease that time will in some way bring to your door. More than 5.8 million Americans are living with the disease, and that number is expected to jump to 14 million in the next 30 years.

"It's surrounding me," says Megan. "I have to do something about it."

So along with worrying, she contacted the Alzheimer's Association and with their encouragement began visiting elected officials-- pleading for more awareness and resources. She even recently made a trip to the nation's capital.

"I met with my Rep. Ron Wright. He was very welcoming. I just sat down on one of his couches, I told him about my Mom. I told him about my grandfather," and with her voice shaking, Megan continues, "I showed him a picture of my daughter and told him that something has to be done and we can't do it by ourselves."

Because you see, the crisis for Megan's family isn't 'coming', it's already here. Her father-in- law was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's three months ago.

"When I have a bad day, it's very frustrating," admits her father in law, Charles "Sonny" Homer Matthews, Jr., "and it's kind of embarrassing at times, because the simple things in life aren't simple anymore."

It is clear that the truth of that statement for the moment makes Matthews momentarily pause, his eyes begin to shine and he glances away. "Luckily I have more good days than bad days."

But, the awful reality of Alzheimer's is never far away. I asked Megan if she worries, all the time...

After a long pause and with her voice breaking, "I think I'm a little worried," she admits. "I worry about the future, just with my parents... and I worry about the future for myself," and now the tears that she had fought to hold for the entire interview begin to spill. "I worry about the future for my daughter, because she has a long road ahead of her with this disease, as well."

In one way or another, so we do all.


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