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Holding On To My Pets, As Alzheimer’s Takes My Memories

Holding On to My Pets, as Alzheimer’s Takes My Memories

My husband, Tim, and a duo of Jack Russell terriers arrived in my life 13 years ago. They were a package deal that included Osceola Jack, a champion Frisbee player who once was the Mighty Dog actor in the famous commercials, and his pup, the equally mighty Samantha.

Later our family grew with Beatrice, a sweet cattle dog mix from Florida who belonged to Tim’s brother but needed a new home.

As an introvert, I have not always had the best people skills, but my ability to connect with animals has never flagged. Many of my best memories involve animals. But now things are changing.

Last summer, at age 54, I learned I had early onset Alzheimer’s. Amid the many worries that accompany this diagnosis, I am afraid that I will lose my cherished ability to bond with — or even remember — my animal companions much longer.

Since my 20s and 30s, I’ve had some weird memory gaps. I once forgot that a childhood best friend worked for me at the school newspaper at Penn State. I wrote off these memory holes to a busy life and career. I worked long days, spent hours on airplanes and trains, managed dozens of people and grappled with complicated issues. I told myself that all of that work, stress and the sheer volume of information that I was expected to retain had to take a toll on my ability to remember everything.

But a few years ago, I started to notice that I just wasn’t performing as well as I used to. Keeping track of big projects became increasingly difficult. Skills that were sometimes challenging (simple math, remembering names, understanding maps and directions) became all but impossible. Some days my memory was so bad that I wanted to wear a shirt that said, “Sorry, I just cannot remember your name.”

My sister found an online advertisement for people concerned about memory loss. I called the phone number and scheduled an in-person screening. Bring someone familiar with you, the woman on the phone said.

I brought Tim, who stayed close as a neurologist poked and prodded me, and vials and vials of blood were drawn. And then…

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