PLATTSBURGH - Alzheimer's disease is a brain disorder that robs millions of people of their lives each year and thousands of families of the loved ones as they once knew them. That's something Debbie Frederick of West Chazy will never forget.
Frederick lost her father, the late Douglas J. Hoffman of Mooers Forks, in August 2009 after his five-year battle with Alzheimer's. His diagnosis of the debilitating disease in 2004 came as a shock to Frederick and her family. Hoffman wasn't even at the age many would consider a senior citizen.
"He was only 62," said Frederick. "When I thought of Alzheimer's before, I didn't think I'd have to deal with it until my parents were in their 80s and 90s."
In the beginning, Frederick's father showed "very subtle signs" of the disease, she said.
"It was really difficult to differentiate between if it was really happening to him or if something else was," recalled Frederick. "He could remember the Buffalo Bills were playing on Sunday but had difficulty remembering he had to brush his teeth that day."
"My husband really noticed it when we were tapping for maple syrup," she continued. "Dad would get confused what the next step was even though it had been something he had been doing for the last few years."
Though her father fully understood his diagnosis when he received it, said Frederick, he would often try to compensate for it and find a way around discussing the issue.
"When he would see someone who he couldn't remember their name, he would just smile and work his way around not having to say their name," said Frederick.
Her father's condition gradually grew worse, and, in 2007, home movies captured how much Alzheimer's had taken its toll.
"My daughter was interviewing him playfully asking him how old he was and he kept joking with her," Frederick recalled. "Knowing now what he was going through, he probably really didn't know how old he was."
Frederick thought her father's Alzheimer's would be a slow progression, one that would take years to fully develop.
"I thought my dad would slowly go through the stages of Alzheimer's disease," she said. "He'd be at home for a long time and we'd have to put accommodations into place for someone to be home with him and that he'd eventually have to go to a nursing home where he'd be for several years."
However, Frederick's loss of her father last year came much sooner than she expected.
"Looking back, I feel like we could've been a little more prepared," said Frederick, referring to programs and support groups offered for people living with Alzheimer's, their families, friends and caregivers. "There's nothing you can do to change what's going to happen, but I feel being prepared and knowing what you can expect should help you cope with it."
Since her father's passing, Frederick has taken on a mission to educate others about Alzheimer's disease. Through the encouragement of family friend Dr. Taher Zandi - director and founder of the Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Center - Frederick's latest role in her mission is that of featured speaker at the 2010 Alzheimer's Walk in Plattsburgh.
Frederick said the focus of her speech will be on early intervention for those with Alzheimer's, like services she and her family eventually pursued through the Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Center.
"The key is seeking [services and support] early on," she said.
The walk will be held this Sunday, Oct. 17, at the Plattsburgh State Field House on Rugar Street. Registration will begin at 12 p.m., with Frederick's speech and the walk to follow at 1 p.m. Proceeds from the Plattsburgh walk and a walk held the day before - Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Olympic Oval in Lake Placid - will benefit the Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Center. The Lake Placid walk will begin with registration at 10 a.m. and follow with the walk and opening remarks at 10:30 a.m.
For more information or to register for either walk, contact the Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Center at 564-3377 or visit www.alzwalk.org.