When Frank Self of Waxhaw, N.C., noticed that his wife, Shirley, was becoming more and more forgetful a decade ago, he didn’t think much of it. But when she started getting lost while driving to familiar places, he became worried. After a battery of medical tests, Frank realized his concerns were justified. In 2008, at just 58 years old, Shirley was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia in which brain cells become damaged and die over a period of time. As the disease progresses, one may experience memory loss, behavioral changes and an inability to communicate and connect with his or her surroundings. In the later stages, it can even affect biological functions such as the ability to swallow and mobility. The malady most commonly affects people over age 65; however, about 5 percent of those with the disease, like Shirley, get diagnosed even before then with early-onset Alzheimer’s.