SANTA ROSA (KRON) – November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Awareness Month.
Right now, nearly six million people in the U.S. are living with the disease, and by the year 2050, that number is expected to be around 14 million.
KRON4’s Grant Lodes sat down with the Van Cleave family, who shared their tragic story to help raise awareness and hopefully raise money to find a cure.
They also want to remind people that with this evil disease, you can get it while you’re still in the prime of your life.
“I’m not your typical wife of an Alzheimer’s patient,” Shana Van Cleave said.
That’s because Shana just turned 45.
“It’s kind of a struggle,” Wayne Van Cleave said. “I still feel relatively young and to be put in that category is really tough for me.”
Her husband Wayne, who they figure has been living with Alzheimer’s for about five years, just turned 49.
“I’m OK, it’s stressful having Alzheimer’s younger,” he said.
“Let’s put it this way, he wears Doc Martins to his geriatric appointments,” Shana said as the couple laughed.
Just meeting Wayne and talking to him — you’d have no idea what was happening to his brain.
“Generally, I feel relatively normal,” he said. “There are some days where I forget something and I’m like, ‘why did I forget that’, usually it’s words.”
“It’s not just an elderly person’s issue,” he said.
“His dad used to call it old timer’s disease,” Shana added “And he ended up having it in his early 50’s.”
And Wayne’s sister, now in her early 50’s is also living with the disease.
“It’s not bearing down on us yet. We haven’t gotten to a point where we’re dealing with incontinence and loss of driving and wandering,” Shana said. “So we’re going to enjoy these moments as long as we possibly can and do what we can to savor them.”
Look around their house, they’re grateful for the present, and are trying to enjoy every moment.
“I tweaked it a little bit, if you look at it really closely, it says enjoy ‘almost’ every moment,” Shana said, pointing to a sign in the house. “Because some of them are going to suck and that’s OK.”
“There are days when I’ll have to answer the same question, a lot,” Shana said. “And we try to laugh about it and try to make the best of it, but it’s hard.”
Without a cure or proven medicine to dramatically slow symptoms, humor is this couple’s best medicine.
But for Dr. Shana, who just started her own pediatric dental business — life is not easy.
“I have a very stressful job and I’m taking care of little tiny humans,” she said. “Own my own business, figuring that out too. How to buy a house after the fires and I would normally have my life mate and now I’m having to figure it out on my own and it’s a lot. It’s a lot of adulting all at once.”
No longer working, Wayne buys groceries, and helps around the house.
“I do as much as I can,” he said. “My greatest fear is to be a burden on her, I do not want to be a burden on her, yeah it’s tough.”
“He’s always saying he doesn’t want to be a burden on me. He is not a burden. The disease is a burden,” Shana said. “And sometimes it’s hard distinguishing the two, different parts of his personality are changing but that’s the disease, that’s not him that’s doing that.”
And while Wayne still can, he and his Santa Rosa family are helping to raise money for a cure.
“It’s not just Wayne we’re looking at. We’re looking at generations of our family,” Shana said. “My sons could have this gene and I desperately want them to live a normal adulthood and not have to worry about them saying to their wives, ‘I have Alzheimer’s'”.
If you would like to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association to help fight Alzheimer’s, click here.