Adapting to Life With an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis: An Air Force Vet’s ‘How To’


Retired Air Power engineer Chuck McClatchey, who was recognized with Alzheimer’s on the age of 61, shares his story.

Desert Storm veteran Chuck McClatchey, 69, desires individuals who’ve acquired a dementia analysis to know that they don’t seem to be alone of their journey. McClatchey’s personal analysis of early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2014 upturned his life, and opening up in regards to the challenges that he confronted alongside the best way, he says, has not been straightforward. However over time, by sharing his story, by discovering the positives in his life, and by linking arms with others impacted by dementia, he has come to study that there’s a lot to reside for on this new model of life.

As a part of our LiveTalk sequence, McClatchey sits down with Being Affected person to share his method to adapting to a analysis of Alzheimer’s or dementia, his personal early signs of the illness, and the way he has discovered hope and inspiration whereas residing with Alzheimer’s.


Being Affected person: Inform us a little bit bit about your skilled background.

Chuck McClatchey: I used to be born in California and entered the Air Power in 1971. I grew to become an engineer on C-141 transports, which is a giant 4-engine jet. I used to be capable of fly 1,000 hours. I needed to fly to about 37 totally different international locations, each continent, did an air drop in South Pole, flew in Desert Storm, then retired proper after Desert Storm and went to work for the Arizona Transportation Service. It’s a rising area known as ITS, clever transportation techniques. It’s the massive black message boards alongside the freeway and ramp meter.

I developed a upkeep program for your complete Phoenix metropolitan Space and acquired promoted to operations superintendent for the State. I had 5 totally different site visitors teams across the Phoenix space and a few $25 million price range.

I retired in 1993 and thought I had my dream job in Dallas as a superintendent for a building firm. That’s once I began having my points with reminiscence and began forgetting issues I used to show.

Being Affected person: What was the ultimate straw for you?

Chuck McClatchey: We name them our aha moments. After I left the development firm, I went to work for Lowe’s’ plumbing and electrical division. I used to be nonetheless having reminiscence points and I used to be fairly pissed off.

One evening, Bobbie introduced residence a little bit pink desk for me to place collectively, which ought to have taken most likely about half-hour. Nicely, right here I’m an hour later, attempting to place it collectively. It received’t go collectively proper. I get fairly offended at myself and mentioned, ‘Nicely, I’ll simply end it tomorrow.’ That’s when she lastly began telling me the issues that I used to be doing round the home.

She would depart and ask me to do a pair duties. I’d get one however not the both. I’d go begin doing one thing else. She mentioned, ‘I actually assume that you could go get checked.’

Bobbie’s my spouse. We’ve been collectively now for about 13 years. She’s a former navy spouse. Her husband was within the Air Power for 22 years. He handed away about 4 years earlier than I met her, so we’ve been on this journey collectively. We’re very open and sincere with one another, which helps.

Alzheimer’s wasn’t in my household, in order that wasn’t something that I used to be even considering of. I went to my main care physician and I used to be extraordinarily lucky. He despatched me to a specialist in Fort Value that focuses on dementia. I went by means of the entire neurocognitive testing and MRIs and PET scans. I nonetheless bear in mind the day [the doctor said], ‘Your mind has shrunk. Your fissures in your mind are twice the dimensions as regular. It’s good to go residence and get your affairs so as as a result of you have got early-onset Alzheimer’s,’ and principally, ‘I’ll see you in six months.’ That was my analysis.

I used to be 61 once I was recognized. However trying again, I used to be having points most likely 4 or 5 years previous to that. I didn’t understand what was occurring. I used to like poker. I ended giving up poker as a result of I couldn’t actually bear in mind all of the playing cards and the performs on the desk. I virtually gave up golf as a result of I’d not bear in mind what the rating was.

You get to a degree the place you might be drained. I’m getting older. There’s this. There’s that. You at all times make these excuses for what’s occurring, till you get to a degree the place you have got the aha second.

Being Affected person: What had been your reactions to your analysis? 

Chuck McClatchey: I had a really, very tough time. I assumed [I would be in] a nursing residence in a 12 months. All these issues simply saved working by means of my thoughts, and I ended up having extreme panic assaults and actually unhealthy nervousness. I ended up going to a therapist for some time. That actually, actually did assist. This went on for about six months.

At some point, Bobbie might see I used to be having a foul day and she or he goes, ‘We have to sit down. We acquired to speak about this. You bought to chop this out. This isn’t who you might be. You’re not someone that does this,’ and she or he was proper. However I believe in these moments, you overlook who you might be.

As soon as we determined that … we had been going to struggle again, all the pieces appeared to fall in place. We discovered a assist group. It was superb strolling in that first time and seeing different folks there that had the illness for 5, six, seven, 10 years. For the primary time since my analysis, it was like, ‘Oh wow, perhaps I’m not going to be in a nursing residence in six months. Perhaps I could make it by means of this.’

The chief of the group requested me if I’d speak at a caregiver convention. That was the primary time I’d ever talked in entrance of a giant group. My concern was, ‘Nicely, what am I going to inform them? They’re residing it, and I don’t have any solutions.’ I gave my presentation, and I used to be amazed as a result of after I completed, there was most likely 15 to twenty those that got here up [to me].

I lastly realized that folks don’t discuss Alzheimer’s as a result of they’re so afraid of it. The [misconceptions] and the presumptions actually paint a black gap. It takes lots to get your self out of that gap when nothing round you offers you hope. That’s introduced me onto this path.

After I first acquired recognized, I seemed it up on the web and my life was purported to [last] three to 5 years. That was eight years in the past. I believe folks want to grasp that it’s not an instantaneous dying sentence, that you’ve a protracted reside life to reside. It’s possible you’ll change a little bit bit, but it surely nonetheless entitles you to have a life to reside, to like, to study, and to move onto different folks.

I’ve at all times mentioned that dementia is a household illness as a result of it’s going to have an effect on each single member of the household. When your loved ones can speak to you about what’s occurring, and you may sit there and speak with them with a smile in your face and say, ‘Nicely that is what’s occurring,’ they’re not so afraid … Should you don’t perceive what’s occurring, it could actually simply create a lot stress.

If I do one thing fallacious, then it’s not me, it’s the illness … We really named my illness and the little man’s Chucky (Chuck’s a gorilla doll of 35 years). That’s really a illustration of my illness. He goes with me each time I journey or go speak. He goes with me as a result of he’s with me. It’s some extent that when [something is] going fallacious, [you] put it on that.

I’ve talked to so many individuals which have a tough time and frustration. They will’t actually deal with not with the ability to do what they used to do. I inform them, ‘It’s good to simply focus on what you are able to do, pursue what you are able to do, and never dwell on what you may’t do. To fulfill this illness head on, it’s a must to perceive what’s occurring to you.’

Being Affected person: You talked about you can overlook who you might be. What do you imply by that?

Chuck McClatchey: It was like I acquired hit proper within the chest with a four-by-four. Rapidly, all the pieces that I had deliberate and was planning for was out the window. I’d not have the ability to care for my household. I’d not have the ability to care for my home. That’s what fills your head. With me, I couldn’t wrap round precisely what was occurring.

It actually strips all the pieces away from you and also you get all the way down to the purpose the place I used to be at: that every single day is doom and gloom. It’s important to cease, and also you virtually come to a crossroads. You may both take the constructive facet and reside your life, or you may take the unfavorable facet and simply hand over. I’ve seen those that have given up and it’s the saddest sight that you’ll ever see. You may see on their face in the event that they’ve simply given up.

“You may both take the constructive facet
and reside your life, or you may take
the unfavorable facet and simply hand over.”

I used to be going to struggle this each means that I knew how. That’s what drove me to do what I do and [remember] who I used to be, as a result of it takes all the pieces away besides what your core values are and who you might be inside. All the cash you have got, all of the status you have got, this illness doesn’t care and it’s going to have an effect on you extraordinarily unhealthy.

Now we have to make that call for us and for our households that we’re going to struggle this and we’re going to struggle this collectively. We’re going to deliver all people together with us.

The extra you deliver them in, the much less stress within the household it’s going to be, as a result of all people is aware of what’s occurring. If they will see you snicker about among the belongings you do, then they don’t have that stress.

Bobbie and I had been within the retailer, and she or he [was checking the] rye bread. I mentioned, ‘Bobbie, what’s jellyfish rye?’ She gave me a extremely humorous look and mentioned, ‘What are you speaking about?’ I mentioned, ‘The again of the packet says jellyfish rye.’ The top of the loaf folded over, and [in] my thoughts, it simply mentioned jellyfish. Nicely, it was Jewish rye. However we had been capable of snicker about it, and it simply takes that stress away. We’re not doing these sort of issues on objective. Issues are going to occur and what do you do? You get again up, regroup, and go at it once more.

I believe you’ve seen my podcast This Dementia Life. I co-created one podcast with a physician speaking about medical trials. It was actually good, and I forgot to report it. I had to return to the physician once more and requested him would he redo it. I advised him precisely what occurred. He was understanding and we redid it.

Issues like which can be going to occur. One of many worst issues to do is [to] maintain someone from attempting issues. Primary, it’s a must to perceive your limitations and to maintain doing the belongings you need to.

Being Affected person: Your presentation on the caregivers’ convention should have been a jumpstart for you as an advocate.

Chuck McClatchey: The aha second for that was once I completed, folks needed to know extra. That set issues in movement. Two years later, I used to be chosen to the 2016 Nationwide Early-Stage Advisory Group and went round for the Alzheimer’s Affiliation to conferences and conventions. It was simply one thing that I noticed that I actually did take pleasure in. I take pleasure in speaking with folks.

After I was in New Mexico, I talked on the Senate twice. Right here in Nevada, now I’m a member of the Governor’s activity power on Alzheimer’s illness. I do a Zoom each Monday from 10 to 11:30 for folks residing with dementia by means of Dementia-Pleasant Nevada, with Dr. Jennifer Carson out of the College of Nevada, Reno. Now we have most likely 18 to twenty folks there each week.

Being Affected person: Any final ideas that you simply want to add?

Chuck McClatchey: Whoever on the market has questions on dementia, simply do analysis on it and perceive what it’s.

Additionally perceive that you simply’re not alone. The individual with the illness will not be alone. The care associate will not be alone. There are literally thousands of folks on the market going by means of the identical factor you might be. We may help one another and make that journey lots much less hectic.

“All the time bear in mind that you’re not alone on this battle.
You might have an entire military behind you. We will study
from one another. We will assist one another.”

All the time bear in mind that you’re not alone on this battle. You might have an entire military behind you. We will study from one another. We will assist one another. As a bunch, we are able to struggle this as a lot as we are able to. They’re within the dementia household, and it encompasses all people. We don’t care who you might be. If in case you have dementia, then you definitely’re a part of our dementia household.

The interview has been edited for size and readability.

Contact Nicholas Chan at [email protected]