Liz and Terry's Story
Liz said she knows she's not the piano player that she used to be. Her fingers, which were once nimble, now miss the keys. "My hands don't go to the right place," she said.
Liz said she has early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Her lists are the only way she remembers her daily tasks.
She said her disease has progressed in the past year. "Sometimes, I sit down and say, 'What in the world am I doing?'" There are some days that she can't find the words to answer that question.
Her husband, Terry, said it's hard to accept how their lives have changed.
"Eventually, the lights begin to burn out, one by one," he said.
Doctors said Liz, at 59, is not too young for Alzheimer's disease. There are more people in their 30s and 40s being diagnosed, and there's one case in someone who's 28.
While genetics may be a factor, doctors flatly admit they don't know why younger people are getting the disease. Researchers said there is new hope for these patients. "The field has never had a time like this," said Dr. William Burke of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He said there are three clinical trials on Alzheimer's drugs under way in the metro. He said the drugs may rid the brain of plaque that kills nerve cells.
"There are a number of drugs in the pipeline that could have a very dramatic effect if what we know about the disease so far holds true," Burke said. The hope is that the drugs can stop the disease in its tracks and eventually lead to cures.
The answers may not come soon enough for Liz, but she said she and her husband will keep the faith, share the love and hold on to the memories of the past 34 years as long as they can. They're hoping to hold off the long goodbye that Alzheimer's brings. "We're still counting one day at a time in our marriage," Terry said. "It's a journey, and we're still saying hello."
The University of Nebraska Medical Center has two clinical trials that still need patients. Anyone who is interested can call UNMC at 402-552-6005.