When Ken Dodson started having memory issues eight years ago, he and his wife suspected a possible brain tumor, but doctors brushed his symptoms off as depression. Just a week before Dodson turned 30, doctors delivered a devastating diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, giving him only seven to 10 “good years.”
“I almost am married to two different people,” Nikki Dodson told Fox 2 Detroit. “I have my husband, and I have the person I care for.”
The couple, who were married for nine years before his diagnosis and have three children together, has vowed to stay together.
“We’re partners in this this. We made a vow to each other, and I will continue that vow until he takes his last breath,” Nikki told Fox 2 Detroit.
Alzheimer’s patients typically receive a diagnosis around age 65, but up to 5 percent of the more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s have younger onset of the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. However, most people with early-onset Alzheimer’s are in their 40s or 50s.
Common early symptoms of Alzheimer’s include memory, thinking and behavioral issues. They typically develop slowly before worsening over time. It’s the sixth living cause of death in the United States, with survival ranging from four to 20 years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. There is no cure.
The couple has told their children that “daddy’s brain is sick,” and Nikki has seen a decline in her husband’s health. She told Fox 2 Detroit of an instance where he thought he was being held captive in their home, breaking appliances and furniture while acting defensively.
“When he found out what happened, he was devastated,” she told the news station.
She also said Dodson has trouble remembering how to swallow and walk lately, but he doesn’t like others to see him in that state.
For now, the family is working to help spread awareness through the Alzheimer’s Association, and they will walk in The Longest Day on June 20. She said she wants others to know they’re not alone.
“You’re not alone. There’s hope,” she told Fox 2 Detroit. “Don’t let this disease defeat you.”