Lincoln City family copes with early onset Alzheimer's diagnosis - KPTV - FOX 12

Lincoln City family copes with early onset Alzheimer's diagnosis

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Cathy Pratt of Lincoln City is one of the estimated 200,000 Americans living with early onset Alzheimer's. Cathy Pratt of Lincoln City is one of the estimated 200,000 Americans living with early onset Alzheimer's.
Cathy Pratt's children Katie and Keith have had to become caregivers for their mother after her diagnosis. Cathy Pratt's children Katie and Keith have had to become caregivers for their mother after her diagnosis.
The Pratt family is trying to focus on making memories now while they can with their mother. The Pratt family is trying to focus on making memories now while they can with their mother.
LINCOLN CITY, OR (KPTV) -

We think of Alzheimer's as a disease of old-age, and for the most part, that's true. 

However, it is estimated that five percent of those with Alzheimer's are younger than 65, with many of these people in their 40s and 50s.

When that happens, it can be a disease that not only affects the patient but an entire fairly young family living under the same roof.

A mom, realtor, softball coach and horsewoman, Cathy Pratt was outgoing, bright, happy, and fun to be around.

If you saw Cathy and her family taking an afternoon walk on the beach in Lincoln City, you would think they didn't have a care in the world.

Until she started changing.

“It just felt like I was losing my mind,” she said.

The Alzheimer’s Association notes that even determining a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s can be frustrating for patients, as many health care providers don’t look for the disease in younger patients.

Cathy, a woman who had been at the top of her game, was no longer able to do routine tasks.

“Well, I was a real estate agent. (With) my files it would take me 30 minutes to write something up,” she explained. “I knew what I was doing, and I loved my career, and I loved people. And then it seemed to take me hours for one file to figure out what I was doing.”

She'd get lost driving, and one day she couldn't find her way home. There were other personality changes, too.

“I wasn't confident in myself anymore and I was withdrawing from people,” Cathy said. 

“(There was) a lot of anxiety, and just anger, just like that,” her husband Ken added, snapping his fingers.

I’ve had to grow up faster than most my age…

Cathy, now 49, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s four years ago. Her life expectancy is now perhaps just another five or six years at most.

”I was devastated. It was hard. I didn't want to cry,” she said. “I felt actually ashamed because I knew what it meant, I knew that I was struggling already.”

Cathy has teenage children, and her 18-year-old daughter Katie is essentially her mom's caregiver.

“It can be hard,” Katie explained. “I've had to grow up faster than most my age that's for sure.”

Alzheimer's Resources

Alzheimer's Association - ALZ.org

Dept. of Health and Human Services Alzheimer's Guide - Alzheimers.gov

Alzheimer's Foundation of America - ALZFdn.org

It's doing the little things with Cathy like grocery shopping that's taught Katie and her brother Keith lessons in both human kindness and cruelty.

They've seen other shoppers roll their eyes and even snap at their mom, who moves slowly through the line.

“They'll stand right behind her in line when she's trying to get her credit card because she misplaced it, and they'll stand right behind her kind of pushing her to go,” Katie said. “I try so hard to be gracious but oh my goodness.”

Glenn E. Smith, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., has said that while Alzheimer’s can be devastating at any age, it can be even more chaotic for early onset patients.

“We don't expect to see dementia at a young age, so problems emerging at work or home may be misunderstood,” Smith wrote in article for MayoClinic.org. “People with early-onset Alzheimer's may lose relationships or jobs instead of being identified as medically ill or disabled.”

At this point, Cathy is mindful enough to know what she will soon miss.

“I might be here, but I won't be part of their life. I won't know who they are,” she said of her family. “And that's the hardest thing to lose, and it's best said we are learning to lose everything.”

“We're not learning how to do new things. We're learning to lose what we have”

Choosing between bitterness or grace

The Pratt family tries to focus on the memories they can still make with Cathy.

Keith said he has become more grateful, and Katie surprisingly admitted it has given the family moments of joy, as the siblings now appreciate the smaller things they once took for granted.

But everyone knows they are going to miss out on many more future memories.

“I will miss my family,” Cathy said. “I have Keith and Katie at home, and I’m afraid I’m going to miss her getting married and Keith graduating.

The Johns Hopkins Hospital Health Library entry on early onset Alzheimer’s notes that while early detection can “lead to better treatment options,” there is no known prevention or cure for the disease.

There is no way to sugar coat it.

”You just have to be able to learn to lose with grace and that's hard,” Cathy said.

The Pratts said they had a choice to make - accept Alzheimer’s with bitterness or with grace.

They chose grace.

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