Hello my name is Terry and I have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease
Theresa (Terry) was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer's some years ago. Her story is a precious gift to all of us not to take any day for granted.
For International Women's Day a number of years ago, the Dementia Alliance International (DAI) charity shared Theresa's story to support the IWD theme for that year, Each For Equal, because their own vision is for a world where all people are valued and included. Someone in the global IWD community who supports the charity was very moved by Terry's story and asked us to help make more women aware and understanding of younger-onset Alzheimer's.
We applaud Theresa and celebrate her as a woman living with dementia who challenges stereotypes, broadens perceptions and has worked for much of her life to improve situations and enable all people equally.
Disbelief at younger-onset Alzheimers diagnosis
"When I got my diagnosis, I felt disbelief. I thought it couldn’t be true [...] I didn’t really understand that there was such a thing as younger-onset Alzheimer’s," Theresa shares in the article.
Alzheimer disease is a type of dementia. Alzheimer disease causes brain damage for years before the onset of visible symptoms. The condition causes abnormal deposits of protein to create plaques within the brain and his causes cell connections to break, and the cells slowly die. As such, it is a progressive disease of the brain that slowly causes impairment in memory and cognitive function. It can both lead to impaired communication, impaired memory, and improved cognitive function and problem-solving capacity. Learn more about Dementia and Alzheimer disease here.
Rising to the challenges of her new life
When Theresa got sick, her life changed drastically from a professional and independent career empowering others as a social worker in Chicago to moving in with her daughter in Georgia.
"I resigned from my job because my doctor told me to enjoy my life and that I didn’t know how long it would be until I “flipped over”. The other reason I resigned was because it was very embarrassing not to remember someone’s name. I wasn’t on top of my game and I was always a perfectionist. I was forgetting my passwords and how to get into different computer applications," explains Theresa.
"I would be standing there like, ‘Oh, I left that at the office’ and ‘Oh, I don’t know my password for that’. Those were too many Oh’s for me. I didn’t want all of that attention to be on me. Because after a while, it gets old. Being like, ‘Oh, what’s your name again?”. You don’t remember the mayor. Someone is saying hello and you have no idea what their name is. In the beginning, you don’t know what to say. You can’t get your stories right."
Yet, she hasn't let this unexpected change stop her - now, she is one of the faces of Dementia Alliance International, engaging with and supporting other people who have dementia.
"We want to [...] help you and still live our lives the best that we can, even though we’ve been diagnosed with dementia – in my case, with younger-onset Alzheimer’s," she says.
"We are empowered to do a lot of things! We think about things and help each other in any way that we can. When we participate in support groups, we really support one another. We share what’s going on in our lives and what it’s like to live with dementia. We don’t just sit around discussing what stage we’re at now…we live!"
A reminder of living life to the fullest
Theresa's is a special story that is important for each and everyone one of us.
It is a key reminder to live each day as best as we can, and to not take things for granted, especially good health - a message that is particularly pertinent in current challenging times as we face considerable uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most importantly, Theresa's story reminds us to love life - and to meet both the highs and the lows it throws at us with energy and laughter.
Feel free to make a donation direct to Dementia Alliance International to help support their incredible and tenacious work supporting people in need.