In 2007, Ron Grant checked the mailbox to find a letter from a neurologist's office. The contents would soon stop the 55 year old in his tracks. The news was unthinkable. The letter revealed a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Ron and his wife, Vicky, were not even aware this diagnosis was possible at his age.
Early-onset, or younger-onset, is defined as those diagnosed under the age of 65. Although most think of Alzheimer's as a disease affecting the elderly, the Alzheimer's Association estimates approximately 200,000 people in the United States are living with early-onset Alzheimer's. Ron thought he might have a tumor, a thyroid problem, maybe even cancer - never did it cross his mind Alzheimer's would be the culprit of his symptoms.
Ron first became concerned when one of his daughters was relaying a story as if he knew the details. He reminded her he did not know about the specifics because he had not been there. She insisted he was, which was confirmed by Vicky. Ron asked his daughter to go ahead and tell him the story as if he wasn't there. When she did, he picked up pieces of familiarity in her words and realized he had indeed been there, although he never was able to remember the event entirely.
If you were to look at your reflection in a mirror, then drop the mirror on the ground and view your reflection in the broken pieces, this is how Ron describes the effects of this disease. His shattered memories led his family doctor to send him to a neurologist who performed a battery of tests, including a PET scan. The results found damage consistent with Alzheimer's disease, a progressive, degenerative disease. Early-onset tends to progress more quickly; the prognosis for this terminal disease is 2-7 years.
In the blink of an eye, the world of this highly educated, successful Chaplain was turned upside down. He began studying and observing others with this disease. What he learned was anything but comforting. Nothing could predict how fast the disease would progress or what to expect. He began to work tirelessly on a living will, power of attorney, DNR, and obsessing on the depressing reality of his diagnosis.
Ron and Vicky both acknowledge a conscious decision to stop fearing the future and begin embracing the gift of the present. They determined they would not keep his diagnosis secretive. Early on they joined a younger-onset support group and proactively faced the realities with others on this journey.
Fear, anxiety, and stress cause a litany of issues for any of us. For those with Alzheimer's disease, those symptoms are augmented and amplified. Ron seeks to keep these emotions at a minimum in his life. "The result is a better existence and fewer mistakes," he says, "We must live life the best we can."
"God was God before - He is God in it - He will be God after it."
Ron says this knowledge takes the responsibility off of us. God is in control; therefore, this frees us to simply live each day to our fullest potential. This amazing man and his wife certainly are a beautiful example of this philosophy. Join me this week as I share more of their journey - what they are accomplishing as advocates, how they deal with the challenges of this disease, and what they want others to know.
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