DEAR ABBY: I was just 53 years old when I began having trouble on my job as a bank teller with what seemed to be vision problems. Suddenly it became difficult to enter large numbers into my computer and my performance nosedived. My doctors tried changing my eyeglasses, but nothing helped. Eventually my doctor referred me to a neurologist, who suspected that I had a brain tumor, but following dozens of tests, made the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.
Since then, my life has changed so much. No matter how loving and caring your family and friends are, it's a difficult and lonely journey. I can no longer work and had to give up the freedom of driving. It's difficult to do many other things that most people take for granted.
My husband and I discovered the Alzheimer's Association, which has been our salvation. We have been blessed to participate in our local chapter's support groups, where we meet others who are going through the same problems and share their experiences and solutions. It makes you realize you aren't quite as alone as it seems most of the time.
To others in my situation: Learn all you can about Alzheimer's disease and go out and live one day at a time. I'm living each day to the fullest as I accept those things I cannot change and fight for those things I can. I haven't fallen into the trap of self-pity and depression.
Abby, if you print my letter, please do not disclose my name or location, as my mother does not yet know that I have Alzheimer's disease. -- "SUSIE"
DEAR SUSIE: Thank you for an important letter and for having the courage to speak out. Memory loss and changes in mood and behavior are early signs of Alzheimer's disease, but dementia, which is a decline in intellectual ability severe enough to interfere with a person's daily routine, can have many causes. At least 60 conditions can cause it -- including strokes, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, depression, drug interactions, stress, thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies. Some of these conditions can be reversed if detected early. Early and accurate diagnosis is essential to determine the cause of the dementia.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common disorder causing dementia, and has been known to strike people in their early 40s and 50s. Presently, there is no cure for Alzheimer's.
The "early onset" form of this disease presents unique planning issues for both individuals and families. Early diagnosis may resolve the anxiety of wondering "what's wrong with me," and allow more time to plan for the future and address important issues regarding care, living arrangements, and financial and legal issues.
As more people in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease seek support and assistance, a growing number of the Alzheimer's Association chapters are providing support groups for individuals with the disease, in addition to their long-standing programs for caregivers and family members.
I urge readers to contact local chapters to learn about the help that's available. The Alzheimer's Association has a new brochure titled "Steps to Getting a Diagnosis: Finding Out If It's Alzheimer's Disease," which is available at no charge through local chapters, or the association's national information line: 1-800-272-3900.