Why I’m Walking

My name is Jesse Ables; I’m a 22 year old from Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m walking across America to raise awareness about a particularly aggressive form of Alzheimer’s disease that has devastated my family.

Many people have heard of Alzheimer’s disease; some are even personally affected by this terrible disease. What is less well known is the tragedy of Younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease (also called Early-onset Alzheimer’s) – defined as onset before age 65. There are over five million people in the United States with Alzheimer’s disease. Of these, approximately 5% to 10% – between 250,000 and 500,000 – have Younger-onset Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. It is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain that eventually leads to death. Some of the challenges victims with Alzheimer’s disease face include memory loss, difficulty in problem-solving and completing tasks, and sudden mood swings. While people in their 70s and 80s are often able to depend on their families for assistance, those afflicted in their 40s and 50s are still working and usually have children at home.

My father, James, lost his job in the construction industry in April 2008. During this time the economy, especially the construction industry, began to crumble. After being unemployed for a year and a half, he finally found a job working for a Las Vegas casino in October 2009. It was great to see them be given a second chance after a year and a half of unemployment. Unfortunately, he was terminated in December 2010 for troubling symptoms that we later found out were tell-tale signs of Younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In April of 2011, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 58. My parents lost not only their main source of income, they also lost their health insurance when my dad lost his job, and they cannot afford medical care.

What assistance is available to families is usually offered only to those 65 and older; while few services are available to those 60 and older. My dad is now 59 and we’re pretty much on our own. My parents’ resources have been entirely depleted. They were forced to spend their savings and retirement accounts just to survive. My mom is now trying to be the caretaker for my father and keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

I believe the reason there is so little support and assistance available to people in my parents’ situation is because Alzheimer’s, and all forms of dementia, is still thought of as “old person’s” disease. It’s difficult to gain access to the few resources out there when they can’t even afford to pay the mortgage.

It’s sad knowing my parents won’t be able to fully enjoy their final years together. It’s difficult to accept that my mom, my brothers and I will slowly lose my dad to this terrible disease. What’s worse is not having the financial resources to take care of their basic needs. No hard-working American should be forced into poverty, possibly homelessness, because they’ve become ill.

By walking across the country, I am hoping to give my parents the chance to enjoy what little time they have left together. I’d like to help secure their financial future as much as possible; but, above all, I want their story and struggle to be known in hopes that it may prevent another family from enduring the pain and suffering we’re experiencing.