Panelist: Jim Ruppert
Episodes in which Jim Ruppert appears
Retired Family Therapist
Alzheimer's Disease Patient
Below is panelist Jim Ruppert's personal story about living with Alzheimer's Disease.
I am 57 years old and have been madly in love with my wife, Vicky, for the past 35 years. We have a son (Kip) who is about to turn 30. He lives in New Hampshire. I obtained a master's degree (M.A.) in School Psychology in 1972. Then, after working four years as a school psychologist with Monroe #1 BOCES in Fairport, N.Y., I sought a second master's degree in clinical social work (M.S.W.) at George Williams College (Now Aurora University) in the suburbs of Chicago. Upon our family's return to Rochester I initiated a family therapy service, the Family Life Education and Counseling Service, at BOCES in the fall of 1979. I continued in this capacity until I felt ethically compelled to retire in June 2002.
Family History with Alzheimer's disease
My father, his mother, and one of his brothers died of the disease. My mother lives in a wonderful assisted living facility in Florida and is now is significantly affected by the disease. Genetic testing found that I inherited an APOE-4 gene from both of my parents. As I understand it, only about 5% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's can be tracked to a genetic inheritance of the disease. The other 95% are as yet unexplained.
Progression of My Alzheimer's
- 1993: My wife, Vicky began documenting my memory loss.
- 1997: I had genetic testing that confirmed I inherited APOE4 genes from each parent.
- 2000: Diagnosed Minimally Cognitively Impaired
- 2002: Diagnosed with Probable Alzheimer's (This is the last diagnosis possible until confirmation by an autopsy of the brain.
Current Symptoms of Alzheimer's
Severe problems with my short-term memory. For example:
I will leave one room to get something from another and then forget what I was after. This happens multiple times a day. Another example; I can no longer read a fictional book (ex. Tom Clancy novels) as I cannot remember the names of the characters or significant aspects of the plot. I do enjoy Reader's Digest, National Geographic, etc. as these do not stress my short-term memory.
Significant mental fatigue. This becomes worse when I am under stress. I often need to take one or two naps a day and have to exert an effort to stay focused in conversations with others. Parties and other large gathering of people are stressful for me. Diminishing fine motor coordination and sense of balance. For example, I now have to concentrate when writing a hand written note. I also find it increasingly difficult to put on a sock while standing on one foot.
Ways I Cope With Alzheimer's
Fortunately, the disease thus far has had only a limited effect on my abstract reasoning abilities, creativity, and verbal skills. However, that is beginning to change. Consequently, I feel an urgency to use my talents to fight back against Alzheimer's by doing what I can to educate the public about the disease. (I have purchased quite a few books about various aspects of the disease and have kept my ears and eyes open for any new information in the media.) This helps me experience a sense of competence with a disease that seeks to destroy it. I have given numerous presentations about our experience locally and have been very active with the Alzheimer's Association. (i.e. For the past two years I have been co-leading a support group for people with early stage dementia, have written an article in the D&C about Alzheimer's in the workplace, co-presented with another person with early stage disease at a workshop at the Alzheimer's Association annual conference in Washington D.C and my wife and I have traveled with people from our local chapter to Albany to lobby our state representatives for a number of initiatives supported by chapters of the Association in New York State. It is also important to stay physically, socially and mentally active. For example: Vicky and I are very involved with our friends; attend baseball games, go to movies, canoe and make Alzheimer's jokes, etc.. I also work out at the gym, do a lot of hiking and kayaking and I occasionally allow my self to have a good cry when I stop to think about what this disease is doing to our family.