Michael Ellebogen is a member of DAI, and has been a long time global advocate for change. He has shared his story of living with dementia with us here, including the frustrations of living with cognitive disabilities. Thank you Michael for allowing us into your inner world for this series of daily posts for World Alzheimer’s Month/Dementia Awareness Month 2016 #WAM2016 #DAM2016….. This is his story.
“My name is Michael Ellenbogen. I am a writer, husband, and father. In 2008, at age 49, I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease after struggling to get a diagnosis since my first symptoms at age 39. I was always very successful in being able to accomplish anything I set my mind on doing. This diagnosis has changed my life in many ways.
When I finally received my diagnosis, of Alzheimer’s, it was a relief to have an answer that explained the symptoms I was experiencing. I had heard of Alzheimer’s disease, but I really did not know what it was until I did more research. When I learned there was not a cure for Alzheimer’s I was shocked, and I was no longer thankful for the diagnosis that answered so many of my questions.
Alzheimer’s disease has impacted so many aspects of my life like my career as a high level manager, but I was surprised by how it has impacted my hobbies. Not that I had many. I used to love boating and tinkering with electronics but I can no longer do either of these things. Electronics are not forgiving, and if I make a mistake the projects can go poooofff when I touch the wrong component. This has happened.
I have tried to take up new hobbies such as golf, but learning new things is difficult. I could not keep track of the ball. It took me much longer to tee off then others, and I felt too much pressure when I was slowing down the people behind me. I would love to play golf but at my own speed and without all the pressure.
I became increasingly frustrated. Not because I have Alzheimer’s, but because of the disparity and stigma surrounding this disease.
Let me explain. Everywhere I turn, I hear or see something related to cancer and HIV. The government contributes 18.7% of the NIH research budget to cancer, 9.9% to HIV, and Alzheimer’s receives only 1.5%. This leaves me with one question. Why? There are so many more people living with Alzheimer’s than HIV, yet we receive so much less funding.”
And here is Michael’s story his frustrations with how dementia has impacted his ability to enjoy boating, one of the loves of his life…
The Day My Dream Sank
“I have been a very lucky person. I have had the opportunity to own 5 boats in my life time. The last boat I had was sold because my wife and I had no time to use it because of our jobs. That was about 17 years ago. I really did not have the time again due to our work schedules.
Then came my diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in 2009 at age 49, after struggling to get a diagnosis for 10 years. Because of that I was forced to retire. That thought never left my mind and I kept looking at a boat but I had the fear that I would decline in another year or two and would no longer be able to control a boat.
I once had great skills and could easily control a twin-engine boat and move it sideways into any position I wanted. That requires lot of knowledge and multitasking. I was fairly sure I would not be able to do that anymore because of my AD. Over the years I kept looking at a boat every chance I could and I just had this dream to buy another but I was so afraid of the added limitations that have been placed on me. Then I realized that the two years were now 4 to 6 years and while I did decline it was not as bad as I thought it would be. I guess I am also lucky there, if one could look at this dam disease.
So I decided to look for a used boat. While I found many, I was always afraid to buy them because of the possible repairs needed. That is another problem. I once was able to do most of the work on the engines and keep the boat well maintained. I am no longer capable of doing it for reasons I cannot even explain. I don’t even wash and maintain my car, which was always sparkling clean. Something in me had changed; something that would make me look lazy if you did not know I have AD. I just don’t do things anymore. So as you can see this would create many other issues, but I figured I was going to finally live out my dream. I used to say we were the poor boaters because we had to do all of the work, while many had their boats well maintained and they just came down to enjoy them. That would add a lot to the cost but I knew this was my last opportunity if I was going to do this.
I have been able to find ways to make up for my inabilities. I was even looking for a boat that had what is called a bow thruster. That would allow me to have more control to make up for my loss of skills. This looking went on for years, and I finally came to the conclusion that I would look at a new boat to insure all of the issues would be handled under warranty.
As I tested new boats I found that the high-end boats had technology installed that would make up for my lost skills, and I was so relieved that I now felt very comfortable and all of the issues were now being addressed. But what was great with this new boat is it had a joystick feature. This option allows a novice to look like a professional. It’s almost like playing a game. Whichever way you move the joystick the boat does it all automatically. That is no easy task when you know what is involved. I find the new boats totally amazing. I also now had the confidence that I also knew in my mind that my wife would be able to step in if needed.
I set my sights on 2016 Regal 35 Sport Coupe. After some negotiations I was having very high anxiety and fear of what I would consider the unknown. I was very surprised that my wife was even okay with making such a purchase. When it comes to deals I always got some of the best deals. With all of these issues and lack of commitment it is like being on a roller coaster. One minute I wanted it so bad and then came so many fears and I was unsure of the ones I did not know of. One of my problems is that I can no longer see all of the issues at once but can only think about one at a time.
I finally told the sales guy of the issues and did not go through with the deal. He said if he could resolve all the issues I could take a test ride to see if I would feel comfortable being behind the wheel. They finally came back with such a great offer that I could not refuse. As we had to put things in writing I realized many of the things that made me feel comfortable were not being put in writing. Things that were said were not the same. All this was creating even more anxiety for me. It does not take much to do that but all this started the roller coaster effect and feeling sick to my stomach at times, but I really wanted this boat, so I continued thinking we would overcome all this.
I also realized I was not being as sharp as I use to because I could not keep track of all of these issues and needed my wife to do it who just kept letting them getting away with each of these issues. I was also wondering what I did not know that I did not pick up on. I figured we could work this out by the final signing as I had made my request.
In the meant time we started purchasing many items for the boat as it is like buying a new home in some ways and you need a lot of things. I had forgotten all that. I had made a list of items needed and went into the store to buy them. I came out spending a lot of money and bought many things. Then I realized most of the items on the list were not even purchased. That just created more concerns of my inabilities to get things done right and my wife was not helping as much as I was counting on. I had forgotten how expensive all this was. It was not the money but trying to keep track of all of these things. I just figured I would get over it but seeing them all pile up on my floor was starting to become a bit overwhelming and added to the already existing anxiety.
The night before the sea trail I had trouble sleeping. I had so much anxiety and fear. I even felt like I was going to have a heart attack as I was getting pain in my chest. I finally told my wife and she said we were not going to get the boat. I was so relived and prepared to do that.
But then we saw the boat again at our sea trail and it was such a great looking boat that I had decided to move forward with the deal and take the risk. I kept telling myself it would get better once it was over and I pushed on.
When the captain came on board he started to explain how I needed to do certain thing in sequence otherwise I could do damage to the boat’s electronics. Here is a person who the day before had trouble using the remote for the TV. All of this makes me really question my abilities. Then there were the markers on the water I needed to follow. I was a bit confused and concerned about doing the same as the captain when I was on my own. It did not help that most of the water in the area was low of 3.6 feet at mid tide.
There were some issues with the boat but think they could have been resolved. But then again there were various markers that were being pointed out to me that I would need to remember later so I could navigate safely. In my mind I was wondering how I could possibly do that when I have so much difficulty remembering. Then as I looked around me on the open water I became panicky and scared as I just felt so overwhelmed that I was trying to hang on to a dream that I was no longer capable of doing. As much as I loved this boat and it was the best boat I had ever had for just one week. I had to finally come to the realization that my AD has made it impossible for me to do this safely.
I had such difficulty making decisions throughout all this time, and I believe my old self would have never even allowed me to spend so much money, but all of my executive functions seem to be a mess. I think the lesson to be learned here is that we must learn to simplify our lives, but that is easier said than done because I still want my boat. I realized deep down it has to be this way but it does not make it easier.
It’s times like this when I really hate this dam disease. It has taken away all of my hobbies. So I guess that last boat did not count since I only kind of owned it for a week. This is just so hard for me to accept.”
Michael’s book From The Corner Office to Alzheimer’s is available here.