FAIRBANKS, Alaska In 2002 Mike and Rosalys Peel started a new chapter in their lives. Rosalys remembers that day well, the shock and disbelief - the emotions while trying to understand the doctors diagnosis.
“When he was diagnosed, the doctor told us that he would probably be in a care facility the last two years, so that’s what we anticipated,” she told a crowded room.
Mike was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. An Illness that affects nearly roughly 5.5 million Americans in the US. The root of Alzheimer’s disease is still uncertain and this irreversible disease is continuing to rank among the top leading causes of death, behind heart disease and cancer in those over 60.
“And if you or anyone you know, or any family member have [SIC] been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s you know what that feeling is like, when somebody you love have [SIC] been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I can only tell you I know what that is like,” she said
According to the National Institute on Aging, many older people forget someone’s name or misplace things from time to time. This kind of forgetfulness is normal, but forgetting how to get home, getting confused in places a person knows well, or asking questions over and over again, could be a sign of a more serious problem.
In her memoir she writes about starting journal entries to record new information and treatment advice from the doctor. But it turned out that journaling became a very empowering and comforting companion for her over the nine and a half years that Mike and Rosalys dealt with his Alzheimer’s. They decided to take their own approach to dealing with the illness, by staying at home and continuing to peruse the activities they enjoyed.
“I was so frightened with the diagnoses and you know I was afraid he would harm me, run away and get lost and those things never happened. And I certainly thought he wouldn’t know me by the end of the day, and he did. And that story needs to be told that is possible to stay in love at the end of the day,” said Rosalys.
Because Alzheimer’s disease develops over time, some people don’t realize they have it. They may blame forgetfulness on old age. But there are ways to distinguish whether or not a person has early signs of the disease. A medical check-up with a doctor or specialist can provide more information regarding the symptoms and find a treatment plan that works for the person and their family.
“You can’t do it alone. You never can take this disease on by yourself. We’re used to doing things as a couple, and thought we could do this together but quickly I learned I needed a team and instead of calling it a team I called it a circle. And that circle included family members, neighbors, certainly the health care community. And so ultimately if you have Alzheimer’s and your dealing with it, you got to get a circle of people that can help.”
As for Rosalys, as a true testament to love, she made it a point to share her and Mike’s journey with others, to say, no matter where the illness leads, there is someone out there who understands your worries, encouraging those to ask questions, and to never give up on love.