WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. - A lot of people get together with family and friends for the holidays. Doctors say it's around this time of year that people start noticing memory problems in loved ones. A White Bear Lake couple has been facing Alzheimer's disease for five years now.
To face a trial or two in a lifetime is not unusual. But Brent and Chris Olson were given three trials in just a matter of weeks.
n August 1, 2007, they were on the 35W Bridge when it collapsed.
On Tuesday, as they looked through their scrapbook of the collapse, Chris said, "It went down behind us. It went down in front of us." The small section of bridge holding their car did not go down. Chris, being a nurse, started to help triage other collapse victims.
In the weeks that followed they were dealt two more blows. Chris was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and Brent, with prostate cancer.
Chris said, "It is like, 'Oh my God? What are you doing to us?' "
Brent's cancer has since been treated, the collapse is in the past, but Chris' Alzheimer's progresses.
She said, "I'd like to have my old life back."
As a nurse, it was her co-workers who first noticed her forgetting details.
Brent said, "All her hours were cut and only one of the doctors would work with her."
It's often family who notices memory loss in a loved one, especially when reunited during the holidays.
Dr. Riley McCarten is a neurologist with the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis and University of Minnesota. He is also a Medical and Scientific Advisory Council Member with the Alzheimer's Association.
McCarten said, "If an older relative isn't acting the way they have in Christmas past, something may be going on. Trust your own feeling about it and talk about it with other family members."
He said if loved ones are veering from their usual patterns, or if forgetfulness seems to be persistent and progressing, talk about it with family. He said often signs of memory loss may be noticed by many in the family but no one talks about it.
In addition to Alzheimer's disease, memory loss can also be caused by other conditions, by medications or even stress.
He said while memory loss becomes more common with aging, it is not normal or healthy and should be addressed.
McCarten said with Alzheimer's, it is important to know that early diagnosis can improve quality of life. He said, "People can have a lot of years of good function with just a little support."
The Alzheimer's Association gets more calls to its hotline during the holidays.
The Olson's called and they are glad they did. They said the Alzheimer's Association has been a blessing as they face this disease. They have learned a lot about the disease and have made new friends thanks to support groups.
Chris is still cooking, cleaning and working a part time job. She also volunteers.
She'll be cooking for their family, including their two daughters and granddaughters, this month.
During holiday gatherings, Chris said it is important to be patient with those with memory loss. Don't get frustrated. Go easy on them.
Brent said don't abandon friends with the disease. He said, "It's the disease, not the person."
Everything collapsed under them five years ago but they have found ways to still go strong.
As Brent held Chris's hand he said, "She's my love of my life."
The Alzheimer's Association has a 24/7 information hotline. Call 1-800-272-3900.
We also have tips for dealing with memory loss for our Health Fair 11 December Know Your Numbers campaign.
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