DURHAM, N.C. — Discovering that a loved one has Alzheimer's disease is difficult for any family.
Up to half of people in their 70s and 80s will develop the disease. Many people, like John Hamilton, are diagnosed when they are much younger.
At first, Hamilton, 54, and his wife, Vickie, did not know he was showing the early signs of Alzheimer's disease.
Hamilton was forgetting things, and with his job at a High Point bank, co-workers became alarmed.
"Someone came from work and said he needed to take time off," Vickie said.
"I did a very good job and here I am now with nothing to do" Hamilton said.
Last year, Hamilton underwent blood tests, a spinal fluid exam and extensive neuropsychological testing.
Tests pointed to early signs of Alzheimer's disease, or what is called mild cognitive impairment.
Now the couple is coping with the life-changing illness.
"It was like being given a death sentence and not knowing when it's going to come," Vickie said.
New treatments are available that can stabilize Hamilton's condition, but patients are forced to accept that their lives will be much different than what they or their families had planned.
"That hits you hard," Hamilton said. "You start thinking, 'OK, what am I going to do? How long is this going to work?"
"You're only promised but so much time on this Earth and you've got to make the best of what you have," Vickie said.
The Hamiltons are making the best of their time together. They are holding on to the hope that more research will lead to better treatments that might buy them even more time.
"If it slows it down, if it gives him six months or a year, isn't that wonderful?" Vickie said.
Families and physicians can learn more about the disease at the 18th Annual Alzheimer's Disease Research Center Conference Thursday and Friday at the Durham Marriott.
Information about the conference is available
or by calling (919) 660-7510 or (800) 646-2028.