Living with Alzheimer's: A Davison couple's new normal

Alzheimerâ??s disease is the most common form of dementia and affects more than 5 million Americans. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and there is no cure or means to slow its progression.

â??She was just a tremendous friend to so many people and a good mother,â?? Dana Ludington said. For the last 15 years, Ludington has watched his wife, Judy, slowly fade away.

â??We were driving and she ran two stop signs in one day. She'd pay for McDonaldâ??s and then drive off, forget to pick up the meal and that sort of thing,â?? Ludington said.

At 51 years old, Judy was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. She is one of about 180,000 people in Michigan living with Alzheimerâ??s.

â??It's the only cause of death in the top 10 for which we don't even have an effective means of slowing progression,â?? Betty Oâ??Neill of the Alzheimerâ??s Association Greater Michigan Chapter said.

As in Judyâ??s case, Alzheimer's often begins with memory loss and worsens into severe cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer's Association, about one in three people will have Alzheimer's by the age of 85.

Oâ??Neill said, â??It is really a healthcare crisis; this is not just about people who are forgetful.â??

In recent months, the disease has taken away Judy's ability to walk and speak. She sits in a wheelchair and fully depends on her husband to be fed and bathed. But now Ludington is looking for work and faces the tough decision of putting his wife in hospice.

â??I know her, she wants to be around us as long as possible,â?? Ludington said.

Betty O'Neill, who's provided Ludington with resources, said it's a decision spouses and family members often have to make when their loved ones have late-stage Alzheimer's.

â??You need to be prepared for everything to change,â?? Oâ??Neill said.

Change is not outwardly obvious in the Ludington home, where traces of Judy's decorative touch remain. But Ludington knows these are the final days and said facing the reality is the hardest part.

â??Coming to the truth of it, frankly,â?? he said. â??Realizing there's nothing I can do about it,â?? but to live day by day, Ludington said, cherishing the life and memories he shared with Judy and hoping she hasn't completely forgotten.

â??How much I love her,â?? Ludington said, looking at Judy. â??That's probably it. How much I love her. That would suffice.â??

Throughout the month of September the Alzheimer's Association is raising awareness and funds for Alzheimer's care, support and research.

NBC25 will be participating in the following Walk to End Alzheimer's events:

Saginaw â?? Sept. 7 at the Saginaw Township Soccer Complex

Grand Blanc Township â?? Sept. 14 at the Nature Trails at Genesys

Midland â?? Sept. 21 at Emerson Park.

For details and how you can participate, contact Betty Oâ??Neill at 989-839-9910 or