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The ongoing toll of Alzheimer' disease

Sunday's annual Memory Walk aids in research, supports disease-related programs in region

Sunday's annual Memory Walk aids in research, supports disease-related programs in region

October 17, 2002

katec@herald-mail.com

Doug Warner's diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is a bitter irony, says Jan Warner of Hagerstown, who was married to him for more than two decades.

Doug Warner is a retired psychologist. For 35 years he used his mind to help people live healthy and productive lives, Jan says.

The diagnosis was not easy to get. Doug Warner knew parts of psychological tests by memory. He still correctly uses words such as antediluvian and megalomaniacal, Jan Warner says.

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The first signs, which came about 10 years ago, included loss of some of his functional vocabulary - describing an air conditioner as the "brown box in the window that keeps the room cool." He couldn't follow multi-task directions, and other problems - some potentially dangerous - arose.

After Doug Warner bounced eight checks - something that was totally out of character - Jan Warner, 24 years younger than her husband, did the first of the hardest things she's ever had to do in her life. She closed his personal checking account and took over the management of their joint account.

The second hardest thing she's ever had to do was to divorce her husband. She has power of attorney and has arranged for someone to take care of him every day - making sure he takes his medications, eats well and takes him to doctor's appointments.

"There is no animosity in this divorce," Jan Warner says.

The alternative would have would have been to quit her job, something she couldn't afford.

Alzheimer's is a devastating disease, she says. "I find it fascinating when it's not breaking my heart."

"What pains me the most is to see the reaction of our 18-year-old son," Jan Warner says.

The age-related, irreversible brain disorder results in gradual loss of memory, changes in behavior and personality and a decline in the ability to think, according to information on the Web site of the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health at www.alzheimers.org.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. Although there is no one definitive test short of autopsy to determine if a person has it, early diagnosis is desirable.

"We've gotten better at diagnosis," says Matthew Wagner, M.D., who specializes in geriatric psychiatry.

There are medications available that can help people with Alzheimer's, and Wagner is optimistic about others "in the pipeline" that will slow down the progression of the disease.

A percentage of funds raised in the annual "Memory Walk" Sunday, Oct. 20, at Hagerstown Community College, will go to the national Alzheimer's organization for research. A majority of the proceeds will support programs and services in the Western Maryland region, says Mona Butala, education director, Western Maryland Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

It is estimated that 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. By 2050, that number may be as high as 14 million. The current cost of the disease is estimated to be $100 billion a year - the cost of care, the loss of productivity of caregivers. "The cost of home care is astronomical," Butala says.

And then there are the emotional costs.

Jan Warner has been grieving for 10 years. She and Doug Warner's paid caregiver recently attended a session of the Alzheimer's Association's Pathways program. She'll read and go to any workshop or seminar available to learn about the disease.

Alzheimer's includes emotional and behavioral problems - problems with sleep, paranoia, depression, Wagner says.

"There's a lot we can do for the family, as well," he says.

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