I have Alzheimer’s disease…AND I’m riding, I’m laughing, and I’m exploring.
My name is Jim Dooley. I worked as a counselor at the VA for twenty-two years and enjoyed my job. About a year and a half ago, I started noticing that I was having trouble using my computer and the new software programs. At this time, my supervisor questioned my ability to function adequately. I found my other co-workers isolating me. My wife also noticed that I was having problems with appointment times and dates. Depression was setting in. I was using my motorcycle to go to work and riding for pleasure, but wasn’t paying attention to maintenance, something that I had been meticulous about for my entire forty-five years of riding.
Because both my mother and grandfather died of Alzheimer’s disease, both my older sister and I have participated in an Alzheimer’s study at Johns Hopkins since 2000. The last time I was assessed was in September 2013. They found some significant changes and suggested I go to a local neurologist. I went to the Memory Program at The University of Vermont Medical Center where I was further assessed for Alzheimer’s.
Though I do have a family history, I was still stunned when my doctor confirmed that I had Alzheimer’s disease. It sent me into a depression. My initial reaction was one of anger, sadness, and despair. I thought that I would rapidly decline and my functioning would start to fail. It was a hard decision to tell my family and friends about my diagnosis because I feared being shunned by them. I felt that I wanted to inform them regarding the diagnosis and, for the most part, people have expressed their sympathy and support. Fortunately for me, I have very understanding family and friends. They offered to help in any way possible, which made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this process.
I am dealing with it by accepting that it will be a long process for me. It has been a positive experience for both my wife and me to be part of an ongoing dementia support group on a regular basis. Motorcycle riding has been a lifesaver because when I am riding I feel free. I am planning this winter to try special skiing with adaptive equipment, because I have a paralyzed right leg from my injuries in Vietnam after detonating a grenade.
Living with Alzheimer’s is a learning process to a certain extent. I still need help with my appointments, dates, and sometimes words, but it isn’t the end for me. Life is what you make of it. Keep it simple and laugh a lot.
Jim Dooley recently retired from the VA, where he counseled veterans for 22 years. After sustaining injuries in Vietnam, he earned an M.S. in Education from Long Island University. He lives in Fairfax, VT, with his wife, Sheila, where he enjoys each and every day of life.
If you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, You are not alone. There are people who understand what you are going through, and help is available. There is much you can do to live your best life. To learn about education and support for those living with Alzheimer’s please call the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 or email Jessie at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are living with early-stage Alzheimer’s or dementia we invite you to join our weekly meeting starting in January.