Impact of Early Alzheimer's

A case study appearing in the Chicago Tribune:

Three years ago, Ginny and Gene Neal of Rockford were looking forward to a sunny retirement, when they could cut back on work and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Then an incurable disease robbed them of the future they had planned.

At age 55, Gene was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. He had to give up his truck-parts business, leaving Ginny as the sole breadwinner.

"What was supposed to be our retirement money will have to go toward help for Gene," Ginny said. Mornings, a caregiver comes to their house to help Gene. Afternoons, one of his grown daughters stays with him.

"Talking to people ..." was Gene's response when asked what he misses the most, now that he can no longer work or drive. "The loneliness -- that's the hardest part," said Ginny, who has to finish her husband's sentences.

When Gene said he can "do some things," Ginny added that he can, for example, mow the lawn if someone starts the mower for him.

Each year, about 500,000 Americans are diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, said Melanie Chavin, vice president of program services for the Alzheimer's Association -- Greater Illinois Chapter. Although doctors cannot diagnose this disease conclusively without autopsies, she added, they can be "95 percent sure by conducting memory and language tests."

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