When Alzheimer's Strikes

All week, the Evening News has been running a series on Alzheimer's. As Sharyn Alfonsi reports, it often strikes those who least expect it: people who are in their prime. -- Ed.
I grew up in McLean, Virginia just outside Washington DC. The town holds so many special memories for me. But every time I go back, I end up being a little heartbroken. I hardly recognize the place I called "home" for so many years. The "quiet" windy road to our old neighborhood now has bumper to bumper traffic. The fields where I used to play soccer have been replaced with multi-million dollar homes. The farm where I rode horses with my mother is now a shopping mall. (Time may not erase memories, but in Northern Virginia, bulldozers do!)

I don't get back to McLean very often. My parents have moved far away from the Beltway traffic. So, I was delighted when I learned I was going to McLean for an interview with woman named Patty Smith. She lives just behind my old High School.

A few years ago, Patty, who was a very successful banker, started slipping at work. Projects were taking longer; she was "missing" things and found herself in trouble with her boss. At home, her husband, Jay says she was distracted and would ask the same questions over and over again. He admits -it was pretty annoying. Patty went to a doctor and was told she was probably "just stressed" and later was diagnosed with depression.

It was the wrong diagnosis. Patty, it turns out, has early-onset Alzheimer's. She was diagnosed at 51 years old. As many as 600 thousand people UNDER the age of 65 are living with Alzheimer's and dealing with a disease that robs people of their memories and their personalities.

As awful as Alzheimer's is, getting it when you are in your prime is even more difficult. Often patients, like Patty, are mis-diagnosed. Frequently, they end up losing their jobs, then their health insurance. They are not eligible for Medicare, too young for Social Security, and too young for the benefits of Older American Act. In addition to daily struggles, the disease can bury a family financially. The Alzheimer's Association is lobbying congress for help.

Patty hopes those changes will come quickly. She admits that she is terrified that one day she won't recognize her children.

Worrying about not recognizing the "old neighborhood" doesn't seem so important anymore.