Early-onset Alzheimer's, the occurrence of Alzheimer's disease before the age of 65 (not to be confused with the early stages of the disease), changed Ron and Vicky Grant's life dramatically. Vicky works full-time, while Ron stays at home. She defines her greatest challenge as walking out the door knowing her people-loving husband is being left alone with only the television and computer for interaction.
The books Ron once loved to read are now in boxes in the attic.
The most frustrating result of this disease for Ron is not being able to grasp what he could before. This highly intelligent man, who graduated magna cum laude while accumulating three masters degrees and a doctorate, no longer attempts to read books. He limits annoyances in his life, which meant putting away his beloved books, now a source of frustration. It is also why he avoids loud restaurants, screaming children, and sensory overload.
Stores became intensely frightening places where Ron sought to stay by Vicky's side. Eventually he learned that if he wore the same color shirt as she had chosen for the day, it gave him peace in knowing what to look for if they were separated. Ron has become highly adaptable and has learned if things aren't clicking - just stop. If Vicky comes home and things aren't done around the house, she knows - Ron had a challenging day. Instead of pushing into the frustration, he moves onto something less stressful.
On these days a new Andy Griffith show is usually airing.
It has been my experience those on the outside looking in are often seeking a magic formula. Perhaps if one did enough crossword puzzles, ate certain foods, stayed active, then this terrible disease would not darken their door. There is no explanation for why Ron has Alzheimer's - nor why, thankfully, his disease has progressed so slowly. However, if anyone has found a magic formula for living in the midst of its effects, I dare say it would be Ron and Vicky Grant.
They tell me learning to walk in peace has been a process - achieved only through trusting God. Vicky says unforgiveness no longer has a place in their lives. This was a conscious period of healing that she now understands was preparing her heart for Ron's diagnosis. "We must walk in forgiveness - God is our healer and His power is at work in so many lives. The only appropriate response is to praise Him.”
Ron and Vicky have become experts at turning lemons into lemonade.
Alzheimer's takes your career? Bring purpose to your life and make a difference by volunteering. Unlike their older counterparts, early-onset folks are in the prime of their life - actively working as lawyers, pharmacists, and consultants. It’s especially hard for these successful professionals to admit their capacity is being diminished. Additionally, their cognitive decline often opens them up to liability issues. Pride and fear have the potential to isolate those with early-onset and keep them from community - a valuable source of support and encouragement.
Most Ron has met in early-onset support groups are professionals who have experienced pressure to maintain a certain level. He believes the key is in redefining life and becoming more aware of what has been gained. "We don't have to punch a time clock or deal with the stress of managing others," Ron states, "We have been set free!" With this attitude, momentum is gained to stand up, be vocal, and help dispel the stigma of the disease.
This is just what Ron and many other early-onset individuals are doing. Proof lies in the fact they collectively received the prestigious Advocate of the Year award during the recent Alzheimer's Advocacy Forum in our Nation's Capitol. Ron is no stranger to this award, which was bestowed on him individually a few short years ago. Next week I will be sharing what is being accomplished because of dedicated advocates like Ron and Vicky.
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