SC family talks about life with Alzheimer's - FOX Carolina 21

SC family talks about life with Alzheimer's

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Meredith McGinnis looks through family photos at Paris Mountain Park. (Oct. 8, 2012/FOX Carolina) Meredith McGinnis looks through family photos at Paris Mountain Park. (Oct. 8, 2012/FOX Carolina)
Mike McGinnis was a pole vaulter at Duke. (Courtesy Meredith McGinnis) Mike McGinnis was a pole vaulter at Duke. (Courtesy Meredith McGinnis)

It may surprise some to learn that 5.5 million Americans are dealing with Alzheimer's, including one Upstate family that has dealt with the disease for years.

Alzheimer's has no cure and comes with staggering costs, not just financially but it also takes a toll on families. One in eight older people in the United States has the disease, and it is the sixth leading cause of death.

It takes $200 billion a year to care for people with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia.

For about 14 years Meredith McGinnis has faced the slow decline of her husband Mike, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in his mid-40s.

"He started to repeat questions or repeat something that he would say to me and I also noticed some disorganization," said Meredith McGinnis.

That was unusual for the software engineer who was usually very organized.

Mike McGinnis was a former college pole vaulter; he volunteered as a track coach, and is a father of two kids in middle and high school.

"I just kind of put it to stress," she said. "Operating a new business was hard, it was a brand new venture to him, so I didn't think about it for a while. Then it started to bug me."

And one day, Mike McGinnis realized something was wrong, too.

"He went to apply for a job and couldn't answer the questions on the test and he was very concerned at that point and then we started the process of trying to find out what was going on," said Meredith McGinnis.

It took years, but in 2006, Mike McGinnis was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's and his wife became his caregiver and the family's primary wage earner.

"The more disabled he became, the more responsibilities I took - for keeping up with doctor's appointments, medications, and his personal care eventually," she said.

It's a difficult road to walk for Meredith McGinnis and their children, who are now grown. She describes many moments as bittersweet.

"Mike was able to be part of our daughter's wedding last summer," she said. "He was able to walk with her, but he wasn't able to go to Peter's graduation in May."

So they hold on to memories, like the photos in their albums, as a connection to the past that means so much.

"I still look at him and he's still there, down in there somewhere," Meredith McGinnis said. "I hold onto moments, the moments when I look at him and he looks at me and I know he knows who I am. Those are really important."

Meredith McGinnis said one of the main support systems she has is through the Alzheimer's Association, who helps her and many others in similar situations.

"We often say it's such a cruel disease because it takes that person from you before it physically takes that person from you," said Kimberly Williams, with the Alzheimer's Association. "It takes the person from you twice... so it's a really difficult disease."

The association is raising awareness and money to help push for a cure. They are having an upcoming walk to end Alzheimer's.

The walk is on Saturday Oct. 20 and starts at 9 a.m. at the Greenville County Square.

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