On a cloudless August day, Richard W., 65, navigates his pontoon on the waters of Jennings Bay, Lake Minnetonka. Pulling a laminated map from beneath the pilot’s chair, he points out Dutch Lake, where he, and wife Carol, raised their two girls.
Dick was definitively diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, but the couple, and a colleague of Dick’s, noticed changes when Dick was just 52 years old. Once a full-time therapist, Dick was unable to keep up with the myriad of details of a private practice and tells of a “convergence of issues”. Regarding the diagnosis, Dick says, “it’s a cold shock, but knowing is better than denying it.”
My father, pictured here, also had Alzheimer’s. My mother suffered a different form of dementia. I post this as a tribute to mom, who would have been 99 on September 11. I wrote this profile while volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association on MN-ND.
For the Wagner’s, the Alzheimer’s Association is at the center of their new reality. “I think the Association has really helped us come to terms with things,” observes Carol. “Through education, the relationships we have, and, building Dick’s self-esteem. There is something so comforting…everyone understands.”
A momentous event for both Dick and Carol was an invitation to speak at the 2012 Meeting of the Minds Dementia Conference. With Carol at his side, Dick spoke candidly about living with Alzheimer’s. They were both amazed how his words, and presence, moved the 1300 people in attendance. “Dick had a huge impact!” Carol recalls. “People came up to us all day long; telling us about spouses who wouldn’t talk about it- people whose spouses had died, and it had gone unspoken.” For Dick, the conference was a unique opportunity. “I feel blessed that people asked me to speak…with the things falling away from me, I could still give a talk.”
Dick also volunteers his time as a mentor for newly diagnosed individuals. “People can call, if they want to talk. I know how important it is to let them talk to someone who understands…”
“I think it gives people heart,” Dick says softly, “and we take heart from other people.”