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Living With Alzheimer's: Doctors At Hackensack University Medical Center Stress Early Detection For Best Treatment, Quality Of Life

HACKENSACK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- A New Jersey couple's lives were changed forever after an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

But there's hope with a new facility that's also helping families cope, CBS2's Jessica Layton reported Thursday.

"We've been together 17 years, we've been married for six," said Lynn Malin of Hackensack.

The story of how Malin first got together with her husband Bernard still makes her laugh.

"He was my divorce lawyer," she said.

The connection was magic.

"He made everybody laugh all the time, and he was good looking," Malin told Layton. "My husband was one of the best lawyers in Bergen County. The smartest person I ever met, and now he doesn't even know he was a lawyer."

The couple loved traveling the world, especially to Caribbean resorts. But that life has felt foreign since Malin found out her husband has Alzheimer's.

"To watch somebody that... was so smart... and had everything, and then all of the sudden he couldn't remember anything," said Malin.

She said feeling helpless in the love of her life's steady decline has been traumatic, especially when the 79-year-old started forgetting family members.

"I imagine that's one of the hardest parts, when you realize he's not recognizing you," Layton said to Malin.

"It's hurtful. I mean, it hurts," Malin said. "But what I did, and people should do, is I made albums... and I show him who's who."

Bernard was diagnosed in 2019. The disease has caused him to wander off, confuse his children - who are in their 50s - for toddlers, and get easily agitated.

"If you see that they're getting agitated, you need to walk away for a couple minutes. Don't confront it, don't yell," Malin explained. "You have to have patience."

The staff at the new Center for Memory Loss and Brain Health at Hackensack University Medical Center helped her with that.

"It is a difficult journey for the loved ones to see their family members sort of disappearing," said Dr. Manisha Parulekar, the center's co-director.

Dr. Parulekar and her team of geriatricians, neurologists, social workers and speech therapists serve about 300 patients and their families coping with the devastating diagnosis.

"It becomes a very overwhelming experience right from the beginning," Parulekar said.

She encourages people to look for early red flags, like consistently losing car keys or forgetting a family recipe.

"How do you know if it is dementia or if it can just be attributed to getting older?" Layton asked.

"People think forgetfulness is part of normal aging and it is not. So if you're forgetting consistently, that's not just you getting older. That means you have to go talk to the doctor," Parulekar said.

When you start to see signs of decline in a loved one, denial is a natural reaction. But doctors say don't delay treatment. Early detection is too important.

"There are so many other things that we can do to slow down the progression, to improve quality of life and to be able to support their loved one," said Parulekar.

Doctors can prepare families for what's ahead. Patients can start medications earlier and possibly enroll in new clinical trials.

While there's no cure, new drugs to treat early onset Alzheimer's have been making headlines and showing promise.

Malin's goal is to give her husband the best possible quality of life with activities and techniques they learned at the center.

"I paint pictures with him. I play games with him," Malin said.

She's also praying for a major medical advancement that could help her husband before it's too late.

"I'm hopeful. I'm very hopeful right now," she said.

Malin said her husband has been on medication for about two months and it seems to be showing promise.

Hackensack's Center for for Memory Loss and Brain Health is the only one of its kind in Bergen County.

CBS2's Jessica Layton contributed to this report.

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