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Moment by moment: Living with memory loss, Alzheimer's in Florida

More than 580,000 people, over the age of 65, are living with Alzheimer's Disease in Florida. That number is expected to reach 720,000 by 2025.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Sometimes you forget someone's name. You walk into a room and forget why you're there. Maybe you miss the exit you take every morning on your drive to work. 

As we get older, our memory begins to fade. But, your forgetfulness may not be normal.

Right now, in Florida, more than 580,000 people, over the age of 65, are living with Alzheimer's Disease. But, that number is expected to reach 720,000 by 2025.

Credit: John Allen

John Allen has always been full of life. He's been married to his wife for more than 50 years. They have three daughters, and now grandchildren, who he loves spending time with. 

He retired three years ago, at the age of 75, after a successful career.   

"I was forgetting more than I should have been. I said, well, I'm just wrapping up my career and starting a new chapter," John Allen explained. 

But, it got to the point that his friends were noticing something was wrong. They said something to him and his wife.  

"We were going to bring it up to you and John because we've noticed his memory has been slipping," John recalled. 

Credit: John Allen

John, himself,  knew something wasn't right. One day, while he was driving, he became confused. 

"In one case, I went farther than I should have and I didn't know I was doing it. So, it caught me. It scared me."

John went to the doctor and was diagnosed with MCI, which stands for Mild Cognitive Impairment. It's the stage between normal cognitive decline and a more serious decline, like Dementia or Alzheimer's. It's characterized by problems with memory, language, thinking or judgement. 

"I worried that I would be this less than person, when I used to be superman," John explained. 

This "superman" did not want this diagnosis to be his kryptonite.

Credit: First Coast News

He enrolled in Mayo Clinic's HABIT program, which aims to fight early Dementia through group therapy, memory compensation training, and brain fitness.

Participants build on their existing strengths and procedural memory, otherwise known as "habit memory", to help reach their personal goals.

"The patients feel more self-confident, like hey I can do this. I can take care of things despite my memory loss," Dr. Melanie Chandler explained. 

Dr. Melanie Chandler, a neuropsychologist at Mayo Clinic, says it helps MCI patients live somewhat normal lives, despite their diagnosis. 

"For some, it won't get any worse.  But, for many, it's really the start of their path toward Dementia," Dr. Chandler said. 

Credit: First Coast News

Elisa Worden’s parents were diagnosed with MCI about 15 years ago. Alzheimer's runs in her family. 

"We were having the same conversations every week and then I would notice they would forget dates and birth dates," Elisa Worden said. 

She's now one of 800,000 caregivers in Florida taking care of family and friends. She's an advocate for early diagnosis and treatment options. 

"I wish I could go back to myself 10 to 15 years prior and kind of kick myself in the butt and say...ask more questions!" Worden exclaimed.  

Credit: Elisa Worden

John is glad he asked those questions and he urges you to do the same. 

"If I can be one little pebble in the ocean of ways to look at things differently, because it helped me, I'm going to do it," John said. 

In Florida, the estimated Medicaid costs of caring for people with Alzheimer's is $2.7 billion.  That number is expected to increase by 28% in the next three years. 

If you would like to learn more about Mayo Clinic's HABIT program, call 904-953-8853 or email HabitProgram@mayo.edu

On Saturday, November 5th, there will be a walk to end Alzheimer's at the University of North Florida.  The organization will raise funds and awareness for a breakthrough against the disease.  You can register today. 

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