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Alzheimer's disease

I was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Despite dementia, I'm still living a full life.

Some things have gotten more difficult, and I've had to adjust to my Alzheimer's disease. But I can still drive, play bridge with friends, go to church and spend time with my grandchildren.

Pat Bishara
Opinion contributor

Many people miss that can lead to dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Someone may start to forget names or lose track of where they are going and chalk it up to age. I understand what it is like to be scared of an Alzheimer's diagnosis. No one wants to lose control. 

But dementia researchers have made significant advancements over the last several years. If the , there's a much higher chance that people can continue to do the activities they enjoy, independently.

Reaching out for help can be hard. I thought I might have started to forget things or had memory lapses but didn't do anything about it until one day, I caught my daughter and husband talking. They stopped their conversation when I entered the kitchen. They asked if I felt I might be forgetting things. When I agreed with them, they encouraged me to talk to my doctor.

I knew I had to get checked out. I was able to see a neurologist within a few weeks, and testing showed I had the early precursors for Alzheimer's disease. The good news was there were clinical trials I could enroll in to try a potential new medication.

I just completed the last of 41 infusions, and whatever the doctors determine about my progress, I’m proof that it is possible to live well with dementia. It’s been more than six years since my diagnosis, and I am still able to do many of things I love to do.

On Monday, I testified during a of a new .

I've had to adjust to Alzheimer's, but I am still enjoying life

Don’t get me wrong. Some things have gotten more difficult, and I’ve had to adjust to the disease. But I can still drive, play bridge with friends, listen to music, dance, go to church, speak at fundraisers for the and enjoy spending time with my 11 grandchildren.

Pat Bishara has been diagnosed with precursors for Alzheimer's disease. She lives in Carmel, Indiana.

I was very lucky to have an attentive family that intervened early on and helped me through the process. My daughter Janine is a physician assistant, and her support has been invaluable. She helped me understand what was happening with my memory and how to move from task to task every step of the way.

I’m also fortunate in living close to a medical center in Indianapolis that offers several clinical trials. Many people don’t have a strong support network and can’t easily turn to specialized care. I hope as new and better options for diagnosis and treatment become available, more people will be able to get the care they need.

My son has autism.Schools misunderstand him. I fear police will, too.

Alzheimer’s has become a disease of waiting − waiting until the symptoms become overwhelming. It is estimated that  are unaware that they have signs of cognitive impairment. It shouldn’t have to be this way.

Please don’t wait. It’s up to all of us to embrace the tough conversations when the signs arise. No one should feel ashamed or embarrassed because of their memory issues.

Know the early signs of dementia. Talk to your doctor if you start forgetting things.

If you notice yourself forgetting things, or having trouble you didn’t used to, don’t dismiss it or blame it on old age. Talk to your doctor right away. It may or may not be serious.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are well-defined illnesses that can be identified through testing and diagnosis. They are different from normal memory challenges that come from aging.

When should I retire?It may be much later in life than you think.

A neurologist can perform tests that will help you understand your specific situation, discuss lifestyle and nutrition changes as well as available medications, and possibly direct you to a clinical trial for newly developed medications for Alzheimer’s.

If someone begins a clinical trial, they have the option to discontinue with the trial at any time for any reason (for example, if you don’t feel comfortable or experience unwanted side effects). 

I hope if someone has difficulty with memory or thinking, that they do not delay getting checked out. If they find out they have Alzheimer’s disease, the sooner they get diagnosed and treated, the better.

People can live full, wonderful lives for many years with proper treatment, love and support.

Pat Bishara lives in Carmel, Indiana.

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