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The Dementia Dilemma

Posted at 8:13 AM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 23:49:21-04

TULSA, Okla. — When Becky met Bill Bowles, the single mother soon realized he was the love of her life.

"Very, very intelligent. I thought when I met him that was one of the things that impressed me most about him," Becky Bowles said.

When she charming Tulsa attorney, she was raising her teenage son.

"I was a single parent with a 15-year old and why he married me, I do not know. With a 15-year-old son?"

They quickly fell in love and married. Their joy lasted more than 20 years until suddenly, Bill was not acting the same. At age 69, words had become a challenge. He was struggling with problem-solving and it was clear his thinking process was slowing down. According to the first diagnosis, Becky said they were told it was normal pressure hydrocephalus or swelling in the brain. However, further tests said no.

"The neurologist thought it was benign paroxysmal positional vertigo," Becky said. "It wasn't that either. And he finally got the diagnosis of vascular dementia."

Experts say pinpointing a diagnosis is not an easy task for physicians.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty finding words
  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Personality changes.
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Hallucinations

"Dementia is actually not a disease by itself it's more of an umbrella term that's a set of symptoms," according to Mike Beckstead, an associate with the Aging and Metabolism Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation or OMRF. He said dementia is any change in mental ability that affects your everyday life, while Alzheimer’s is a specific disease with a specific diagnosis.

"If you were to actually look into the brain of somebody with Alzheimer's disease, you would see a very specific set of symptoms, protein aggregates, collecting and certain parts of the brain for instance that are known to cause damage," Beckstead added.

Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia and the Alzheimer's Association says it accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.

Researchers say becoming forgetful, such as losing your car keys, are normal parts of aging.

Severe mental issues are not normal and you shouldn't wait to call your doctor who can schedule brain scans and behavioral tests to pinpoint the cause.

And watch for apathy -- disinterest in life and hobbies you enjoy.

Apathy -- Beckstead warns -- is turning out to be a strong predictor of future dementia.

"It is really important that we get an accurate diagnosis early on because there are treatments for Alzheimer's disease and pretty much every form of dementia," Beckstead said.

"The important thing is catching it early with what we lost we've lost so much for brain function but nothing can be done about it."

Becky heard multiple diagnoses over the years of Bill's decline, including Alzheimer's. She cared for him in their home, singlehandedly, for six years. However, when he became aggressive with her, she was forced to place him in a memory unit in January 2021.

When a neuropsychiatrist at the center ran another round of tests, he discovered Bill does not have Alzheimer’s, after all. Instead, it's a rare illness called frontotemporal dementia that affects only about 50,000-60,000 people in the United States. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes the condition as a shrinking of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

Now, the home Becky and Bill shared for nearly 29 years is a quiet one. She prepared meals for one, instead of two and cares for the garden they grew together.

She told 2 News anchor Karen Larsen it is her haven and bring her peace because she can see Bill sitting there. While the different diagnoses from different doctors over the course of six years were difficult, she says now she is simply grateful to know doctors can now follow the right treatment.

"How does this happen?" Becky asks. "I know how it happened because every single type of dementia out there is different."

A friend sent her an Oscar statue in honor of her years of care and devotion to Bill.

"He is my soulmate, and I was going to do everything and win that award," Becky said with a bittersweet smile. "Well, there are several of us now in our support group where we've won the award because we did the right thing."

Becky turned to the Alzheimer's Association support group that meets at Asbury United Methodist Church twice a month. She found friends and support in sessions where they can share the worst things that happen. Now, she even helps guide others.

Becky will tell you, the meetings provide comfort and care for caregivers. Comfort she will need even more, after Bill's health failed and he passed away last Monday.

WATCH the full story TONIGHT on 2 News Oklahoma at 6 and 10.

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