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Postcard from Sacramento: Alzheimer's 'looks like me, it looks like you'

From News Medical - January 16, 2018

Until last year, Jackie Coleman was a disability rights lawyera good one, too.

"I was an excellent attorney," recalled the 63-year-old Rancho Cordova, Calif., resident who loved her job and was proud of the work she did.

But a little over a year ago, she started to forget appointments and details from meetings, and began to depend heavily on her secretary. Then she started making mistakes. Ultimately, one got her fired.

Two weeks later, she got a diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease.

Coleman, dressed in purplethe official color of the Alzheimer's advocacy movementrecounted those awful days while attending an Alzheimer's panel discussion last week at the California Museum, near the state Capitol. A small, soft-spoken woman with shoulder-length hair and round glasses, she attended with her more talkative friend and roommate, Joyce Irwin, 60.

The women said they'd cared for each other for the past three years. Irwin, a three-time cancer survivor, said her late husband had dementia and mother likely did, too, though she was not diagnosed back then.

Sponsored by Northern California and Northern Nevada Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, the event was part of an initiative to highlight the disease's impact on women, who account for two-thirds of people living with Alzheimer's and two-thirds of those caring for them.

About 630,000 people have Alzheimer's disease in California, and women in their 60s have a 1 in 6 chance of developing the diseasealmost twice as high as the risk of developing breast cancer.

Before the formal discussion got started, one of the speakers, Pam Montana, told a reporter a story not unlike Coleman's: She had been a sales director at Intel Corp. before being forced to retire early because she could not keep up with workplace demands.

Despite her Alzheimers diagnosis in 2016, she's upbeat and funnynot "your grandma in a wheelchair" that some people associate with the disease, she said. The lively 62-year-old sometimes introduces herself by joking that she's not Hannah's moma reference to the once-popular Disney show Hannah Montana. Sporting a stylish bob and an elegant black dress with white stripes, she confided that her disease has done nothing to keep her away from Nordstrom.

"Alzheimer's looks like me, it looks like you, it looks like everyone," the Danville, Calif., resident said.

She acknowledged some hard times. She cries and becomes frustrated easily. She no longer drives at night, and during the day she only goes to places she knows, because navigation apps are too confusing, she said.

Between visits to the neurologist and numerous cognitive tests, it took about two years for Montana to get a proper diagnosis. "It was so stressful waiting to hear the diagnosis, [but] as hard as it was to hear the words, I was grateful to have an answer," she said.

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