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Dealing with a Diagnosis of Alzheimer's

In part two in our series on Alzheimer's Dr. Bill Sunderwirth and his step-daughter Mary Reichard share their experience dealing with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's...

Recently, we introduced you to Dr. Bill Sunderwirth who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Dr. Bill, as his patients called him, practiced medicine in the Ozark for nearly five decades.He says the suspected a year or two ago that something was wrong…

"It became obvious to me that finding my way around, now, from where we live, getting to places I was in the habit of going to, I didn't have any trouble. But I know I needed to pick up some repair parts on a little riding tractor and had to get out onto Highway 60. I didn't remember how to get onto Highway 60."

After going thru some tests to check for Alzheimer’s, Dr. Bill’s doctor told him he has the disease…

He put me through a series of tests, and, first of all a lot of questions. And he wouldadd puzzlesfor me to put together. I just flopped them all together. I thought I was doing fine. Finally I came to one I couldn't figure out how to get the last piece in, and he had to take it and put it in for me, and his comment on it was that this was early Alzheimer's."

Dr. Sunderwirth wasn’t surprised—Alzheimer’s runs in his family. His cousin who has a PhD in chemistry and who taught chemistry in 52 countries is now in an institution suffering from the disease. An uncle who was an attorney also had Alzheimer’s.Now that he knows he has the disease, Dr. Sunderwirth is concerned for his family...

"My prayer is that I die before I become a major burden to my wife."

Hearing that a loved one has an illness is never easy and particularly so with Alzheimer’s, which slowly robs patients of their memories. Dr. Bill’s stepdaughter Mary Reichard says learning that a loved has Alzheimer’s begins a sort of grieving process…

"At first it was denial 'cause we sat at the kitchen table, and you told me that, and I immediately wanted to go fix something or clean something--oh, I don't know what to say. And thena few days goes by and you start to, I don't know, there's a little bit of anger for me, it's like, 'well, why you? Why does it have to be him? He's the one who'd been helping everybody.' And then you come into a stage of 'now what do we do? Let's face reality.'"

Dr. Sunderwirth knows his family will be there for him as the disease progresses, and that gives him some comfort. Reichard says being able to be there for the man who raised her from the time she was five is one of the positive sides of Alzheimer’s…

"It's a way to repay a lifetime of care. So, in a way, it can be turned on its head, and it can be a gift."

Dr. Bill shared with his daughter what he hopes for from his family as his Alzheimer’s progresses…

"That you tolerate me as my Alzheimer's increases."

Reichard: "With patience."

"With patience. Before I become a major burden, I hope I die."

As KSMU’s series on Alzheimer’s continues, we’ll introduce you to Dr. Sunderwirth’s wife Karen and tell you about resources that are available in the community for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. Stories in the series are available online at ksmu.org.For KSMU, I’m Michele Skalicky.