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Something’s Wrong

The first major clue and diagnosis

By Tom Hintz

Posted– 2-20-2013

In the fall of 2010 my family was out of town for the weekend so I decided to drive from my home in Concord, NC to Hickory, NC to attend a woodworking show. I had made this 40-some-mile drive dozens of times for previous woodworking shows and while I was a staff writer for racing magazines to attend races and do interviews. All of those trips were made without incident.

I tried for along time to explain away the things happening to me. Then I had to et honest with myself, my family and now you.
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This time however when I was roughly halfway to the show I realized that I had no idea where I was going or why. I was accustomed to having trouble remembering names and similar things so continued on for a bit to give my mind time to recall where I was going. But the blank I was getting from my mind continued so I thought I should stop before I got too far from wherever I was coming from.

As I was getting off of the highway I remembered that I had a GPS unit that had “Home” programmed in. Just as I found a parking lot where I could get the GPS out my mind clicked and I remembered where I was and where I was going. I thought about going right home but knowing that I had the GPS made me brave so I went, attended the show and drove home with no further incident.

It would be a while before I mentioned this getting lost episode to my wife but I spent a lot of time recalling the increasing frequency with which I was forgetting names of people and things that I had known for many years. I also was becoming more and more aware of my inability to read a number like a Zip code then turn and write it down without having to go back and forth to get it right.

Over the previous couple of years I also noticed that while driving a car I would sometimes be unsure of which way to turn as I approached even familiar intersections. I felt like I knew where I was going, knew that I had gone there many times in the past but the occasional doubts about which way to turn appeared to be getting more pronounced.

I eventually told my wife about the getting lost episode as well as my other memory concerns. I also brought this up at my next visit to my general practice doctor. She started me on Aricept on a trial basis and ordered an MRI of my head, something lots of people probably thought was long overdue anyway. That MRI revealed an old (unrelated) stroke that I was not aware of but nothing else that could explain the memory issues. She then referred me to a neurologist.

The neurologist did a bunch of tests before upping my Aricept dosage and confirming what I was wondering - I had Early Onset Alzheimer’s. The neurologist said that I was early in the process and likely would continue my life fairly normally for up to 13 years before things got much worse. Of course because of the uncertainty that still exists about Alzheimer’s she also suggested “getting my life in order” specifically a will, living will, power of attorney etc. That gets the legal landscape in order before the legal system declares me out of order.

I may not have as much time as I thought to continue my web sites but now I can use that effort to fight Alzheimer's.
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After letting all that sink in for a while I started looking for things I could do on my own to try fighting off the effects of Alzheimer’s. In addition to getting myself in better physical condition, exercising my brain was frequently touted as something that just might slow the progression of the disease. To that end I began some activities that force the brain to get engaged and I will look at them in another story.

While this website was originally meant to chronicle my efforts at fighting Alzheimer’s, it is itself an activity that exercises my mind which makes it part of the fight. Along the way I hope to demonstrate that an Alzheimer’s diagnosis itself does not slow the mind or dull the intellect. Lots of people never tell anyone outside of their immediate family that they have Alzheimer’s to avoid the unfounded stereotypes. I think that with my experience writing and operating a web site I can do more good by being open about the process and letting you in on how my life changes. Maybe the things I am doing to fight the disease will help, maybe not, but I want to be open about the effort.

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