My Life with Alzheimer’s
By Bill Dugan and his wife Luciana
Editor’s note: At the Rita Hayworth Luncheon to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association in Palm Beach, alongside his wife Luciana, Bill Dugan touched hearts by telling his personal story about living life with Alzheimer’s disease.
Bill: About 7 years ago, I was first diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment, but within 2 years, my diagnosis became ‘Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.’ Before my diagnosis, I had an exciting career in sales. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work was giving presentations to large groups of contractors, architects and builders. After preparing a presentation, I rarely needed to look at my notes. Today, I stand in front of you reading from this paper because not only would I be unable to remember any content, but I would most likely begin talking to you about my days in the Navy, or the time I spent touring with the music group, Fleetwood Mac.
Luciana: Back in the late 1970s, Bill worked for the Ryder Corporation in entertainment services. He was in the logistics division where he did staging, setup, transportation, lodging and anything else the music groups needed. Along with Fleetwood Mac, he also worked with the Doobie Bros, the Pointer Sisters, and many other groups. They came to trust that Bill would handle everything without a glitch.
Bill: My memory of events from the past is still quite good. But if you were to ask me what I ate for breakfast this morning or what day this is or if there was traffic on the road getting here, I could not tell you. Tomorrow, if someone asks me what I did today, I would have no recollection. But if someone gives me a prompt, chances are I might vaguely recall what I did. But I will tell you that when I am someplace or with other people, I am totally present, completely in the moment at hand.
Luciana: I saw the first signs of Bill’s memory impairment about 10 years ago…they were simple things that you might ignore or chalk off to ‘having too much going on.’ For example, one morning before we both left for work, I told him of some dinner plans we had with friends, let’s say at 7 p.m., and to please get home in time to change. I called to remind him several times. When 6:55 p.m. rolled around and he still wasn’t home, I called him. He was in the gym and completely forgot about any dinner plans. He began losing things, his wallet, his cell phone, his glasses, his keys.
Another more startling warning sign was when he came home and announced that someone had stolen his car. He was at the cemetery to pay respects to a friend who had passed away years ago and he parked his car on the top of the hill and walked down to the gravesite. When he returned for his car, it was gone. We reported the stolen car to the police. Days later his car was found in the parking lot of City Hall. The police said there were no signs of forced entry. I wondered if Bill had gone to City Hall to find out where his friend’s gravesite was and “forgot” he had parked there and walked to the cemetery
instead of driving. When we talked about the incident, that’s actually what had happened.
Bill: Recently my wife Luciana reminded me that we had just been to the movies to see “The Theory of Everything”. I had no memory of going to the movie, much less what the movie was about. But I do know that whenever we go to a movie, I am completely absorbed by the story.
Some of the most difficult situations are when I feel totally embarrassed that I have asked the same question many times during a conversation or have told someone I would do something that never got done.
Luciana: As Bill’s wife and caregiver, I feel it is critical to get an accurate diagnosis as early as possible. As difficult as it may be to face the reality of this disease, once the diagnosis is determined there are so many important and helpful things to learn that will make the journey easier to navigate – not only for the caregiver, but for the person with the diagnosis. Connecting with others who are traveling this same path has been invaluable to me…
I don’t feel so alone on this mysterious path.
Bill: There are many things in my life that I can no longer do, like holding down a job, driving, paying my own bills, or cooking a hamburger on the grill. But rather than focus on the losses, frustrations and disappointments, with the help of my wife, my family, and other caring people, I have learned to focus on the many things I am still able to do.
While I did not have a choice in developing Alzheimer’s, I still have a choice in how I deal with what is happening. When I wake up in the morning, I can choose to dwell on my limitations or approach the day as an adventure. I am still able to enjoy the activities that make me feel alive. My passion for music and exercising in the gym continue to give me joy and energy.
I can continue to enjoy time I spend with my three grandchildren. Today, I can still remember their names but I know there is a possibility that one day this may change.
So I want to thank all of you who support the Alzheimer’s Association. My hope is that my grandchildren and yours will be free from the worry that one day they may forget their grandchildren’s names.