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Find the joy in today, Alzheimer's advocate says

Ron Grant, 61, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about six years ago. Since then, he has determined he can't ‘win' against the disease, but he can control how he responds to what the disease does to him.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: December 15, 2013

Ron Grant is not fighting.

It's not that he isn't willing. It's that, in a sense, he can't.

Grant cannot beat Alzheimer's. It's not like cancer. You can fight cancer. You can beat cancer. You can be cancer free.

Not Alzheimer's. Not yet, anyway.

Grant has resolved to take a different approach to his disease.

“Like you, you've got to figure out what you can do to make your future better ... You're thinking about, ‘How can I get promoted in my job?' and ‘Where do I ultimately want to be?' and ‘What do I need to do to prepare and get there and strive for that?'” Grant said. “Hey, I don't have any of that any more. So you see, in that sense, there is that freedom, and once people learn to live in that freedom, yes, I have the black cloud of Alzheimer's hanging over my head that some day is going to totally devastate me, but at this point, it hasn't, and people need to understand we can't change that day from getting here, but we have control today.”

That conclusion didn't come in the first year of Grant's Alzheimer's diagnosis, but it's a thought process he tries to help the newest members of his support group understand.

Wednesday evening, Grant sat with a retired doctor, businessman, private investigator, Navy veteran and dentist. They've each been diagnosed with dementia and are at different stages of the disease. At 61, Grant is one of the younger support group members.

Across from them sat about 10 fourth-year medical students from the University of Oklahoma's College of Medicine. They're required to attend two support group meetings, one with the people who have been diagnosed, another with the caregivers, who sit in a different room nearby.

The students are young, preparing to start their careers. Across from them, a woman in the support group tells them she wishes she could remember hers.

As they move down the line of chairs, it is not easy for some of the group members to share their stories. Grant helps draw out some of their memories.

The man sitting next to him stalls when it's his turn. “Tell them what you used to do,” Grant says to him with a kindness easy to communicate with his mix of west Texas and Oklahoma accent.

Grant goes last and talks the most. He's a retired preacher, and it's time for his sermon on Alzheimer's.

Six years ago, Grant checked the mail and read a letter from his doctor with news that a 55-year-old man doesn't expect: the damage that his neurologist saw on his brain scan was consistent with that of early Alzheimer's. As far as Grant knows, early-onset Alzheimer's does not run in his family.

No more reading books

Before Alzheimer's, Grant was a prison chaplain. He has a bachelor's degree, three master's degrees and a doctorate. A reverend, he knows how to capture the room's attention.

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