Early-Stage Alzheimer's

"This disease requires that you lower expectations of yourself"

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Courtesy Becklenberg Famiy

Mary Ann Becklenberg with her Husband

I was diagnosed three years ago at age 62 with early-stage Alzheimer's disease.

I have a master's degree in social work from the University of Chicago, and I worked as a family therapist. The majority of my career was spent in end-stage hospice work, which I dearly loved. All of a sudden—but it wasn't all of a sudden, of course—I began to realize that I wasn't the gal I used to be. It was different inside my head.

It was the very simple things. I would be talking with someone on the telephone, then hang up and ask myself, "Who was that? What did we talk about?" My husband John says he knew something serious was going on when we returned from a vacation together and I told him, "I really had a great time in California. I'm so sorry you couldn't make it."

It's terribly important to know that you have the disease. If you know, then you don't feel that you're crazy, falling apart, inadequate and terrified.

My husband has become my caregiver. He is the navigator and coordinator of my day-to-day life. He's rarely short with me, but I'm often short with him—because of my frustration with myself. One of the challenges is to keep humor in our lives, to laugh about the things you forget.

My message to people with Alzheimer's is this: Be gentle with yourself. This disease requires that you lower your expectations of yourself. That's a hard thing for most of us to do. The fear is losing yourself, knowing that you won't bring this self to the end stage of your life. So I look to build my spirit. I believe in a loving God, and when I'm afraid or down or angry or frustrated, I go outside, whatever the weather, and I pray, "Teach me to be gentle with myself."

Becklenberg is a retired family therapist who lives in Dyer, Ind.