I can’t say when the changes in Dan began, but most likely when Dan was in his mid-fifties. The earliest I can pinpoint is  February 1992—Dan was fifty-six. He showed me an intended final draft of the paper he was presenting at an event honoring a professor who had been Dan’s mentor. The paper lacked the clarity that was  characteristic of Dan’s work.  I didn’t criticize but did ask lots of questions. The version he delivered was more polished but pieces of research were missing.  He told me he couldn’t find resources that I knew must exist.

Other incidents increased my concern: Dan’s confusion over facts he knew well, his inability to remember how to do certain things. By the fall of 1994 I was confiding to our children that I believed something was wrong. We looked for logical explanations.  Perhaps depression. Dan’s mother, a very dependent person, had had serious depression for a number of years after Dan’s father died. That this brilliant man with whom I shared a life might have Alzheimer’s never entered my head; it wasn’t part of his family heritage. Depression seemed a probability.  Was he depressed because we were living in separate locations? He wasn’t thrilled about the separation, but it was to be only for two years until 1994.

In 1994 he postponed retirement, and he became obsessed with retirement funds and money. He attended meetings about retirement and then tried to explain the information to me. I found glitches in his explanations.

In March of 1995 he attended a conference in Memphis where, he told me, he had a strange experience. The walk from the conference center to his hotel was a straight shot, but when he came out of the conference center he hadn’t had a clue which way to go. I questioned him closely, but he shrugged it off. He had walked around and figured it out.

I became seriously concerned when Dan began to have problems balancing his check book. His check book always balanced to the penny. Sometime in 1995 he began seeking the help of the cashier at the bank if I wasn’t around.

Our sons shared my concern.  They would call and talk to him to make sure he was all right. He was taking long rides in the car, “to clear my brain,” he told one son.

During the spring quarter of 1995 he complained about students not paying attention, not understanding.  Dan had won awards for his teaching, was beloved by students, and had the most clear and precise lectures imaginable.  I asked a close friend to let me know of any rumors on campus about Dan’s behavior.  She called me early in the fall of 1995.  Several colleagues on campus had mentioned to her that Dan seemed vague and confused in casual conversations.  He was forgetting appointments and meetings.

Our son Mike’s wedding in October of 1995 was a turning point for our children. They witnessed their father’s inability  to respond to questions, to organize his thoughts, and to plan.

“Maybe a brain tumor?” our son Mike wondered, and pressed me to do something.

I urged Dan to see a doctor.  He resisted.  At Christmas he left our basement abode in anger and returned home because I was insisting that he seek an evaluation.

In January of 1996 he saw our family doctor for a physical.  Dan called me feeling very happy.  He had passed with flying colors.  I had alerted the doctor of my concern and was disappointed the doctor had not identified the problem.

In February I drove down and stayed with Dan for a week. I made an appointment with the doctor who told me physically Dan was in good shape.  When the doctor had questioned him, Dan had given no details that hinted of depression or other mental problems.  Was he having problems with his teaching? the doctor asked me. Yes.  The grapevine scuttlebutt was that Dan had only a handful of students in his class, and that students were complaining about his teaching. The following quarter, all but one or two students dropped his classes within the first two weeks.

I called the doctor, and he recommended that Dan return for a few simple tests involving sequencing numbers and recall. That May, as we sat in his office to hear the results, he pronounced the verdict. The University administration agreed that Dan should take a medical leave of absence, and Dan came north with me.  Alzheimer’s took over our lives.

©2011 Anne Stewart

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