Alzheimer’s Disease

Not every victim is elderly

April 11, 2018 - 11:22 am
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APRIL 11, 2018 BY RENEE SEXTON (South Carolina Radio Network)

Linda Tolbert of Greenville is a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.

Tolbert does not personally suffer from the disease, but she lost her seemingly healthy, active, husband to Alzheimer’s in his 50s.

“It can happen,” she said. “It happened to my husband. He was a brilliant, high-level executive with a prominent company traveling to Paris when he got lost. Just an exceptional man. Young. Healthy.”

Because he was 52, it took nine months for the couple to get a diagnosis for rapid-onset Alzheimer’s. “I think the fact that Richard was so young and strong and looked normal and acted normal, initially it was very difficult to find help — to get a diagnosis,” she said.

It was one week after his 52nd birthday when Richard was on a business trip in Paris–a trip he’d made before.

“There was unrest, strikes, riots, and there was a very stressful situation and he just could not get home,” Tolbert described her normally confident husband dealing with the crisis. “When he finally got home — and the company got him home from Canada — we sat up in bed the next morning and held each other and said ‘This is Alzheimer’s.’ We knew it was. His parents had it, but they were much older. We never expected it at 50.”

Tolbert was an executive at Michelin. “His company cared enough to really help us find out what was going on and realized it was not him, it was the disease, and yes, we had a lot of support and a lot of help,” she said. “But that’s not the norm and we’re very thankful for it. But I am burdened for those that don’t have that help.”

“He worked for a wonderful company. His company took us under their wing. They helped us so very much when he was lost in Paris and finally ended up in Canada. They went to get him. They held our hands the whole way, walked us through the health care and benefits. But that doesn’t happen for everyone and it’s sad because it can be financially devastating.”

To get other Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers the help and support she received, Linda is telling Richard’s story.

Although the Alzheimer’s Association can be supportive, Linda said it was difficult finding help — and even a diagnosis for her husband — because of his age.

“My passion is to raise awareness to have more funding and help for those of us with younger onset because nobody wants to talk about it,” she said. “There’s this stigma. I tried passionately to protect my husband early on because I didn’t want people to know. I didn’t want them to treat him differently. It’s very awkward. It’s very hard. I think people just don’t want to talk about it.”

Richard died in 2015, five years after his diagnosis.

“It can and it does happen,” she said. “And we need to be aware of that.”

Wednesday is the South Carolina Alzheimer’s Association Statehouse Day in Columbia. Activists, patients, and caregivers will be meeting with legislators and encouraging them to continue to support funding for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Respite program.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association of South Carolina, 89,000 people in South Carolina are diagnosed with the disease. They are cared for by 309,000 unpaid family members and loved ones. South Carolina has the highest death rate from Alzheimer’s Disease in the nation. 

Click here for a link to the Alzheimer’s Association of South Carolina.

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