2018 Stories of the Year: Younger onset Alzheimers takes its toll on N.H. 

  • Kathy Harvard hugs her husband, Andy, who was fired from his job more than a year before being diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 12/27/2018 6:32:43 PM

Ken Bouchard’s family had a history with Alzheimer’s disease.

Still in his 50s, he figured he was years away from dealing with a diagnosis. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Bouchard was part of an emerging medical trend presenting itself in New Hampshire – younger people in their 50s dealing with vague symptoms, like forgetfulness, speech problems, and a growing inability to keep up with conversations. Their doctors weren’t able to pinpoint the problem, often suggesting it was anxiety or depression. Years of testing as symptoms worsened drained family finances.

The Monitor’s “Stolen Memories” series examined the prevalence of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and how a diagnosis can be especially devastating to families who haven’t even reached retirement age.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.5 million people – 1 in 10 individuals age 65 and older – are living with Alzheimer’s. Because of misdiagnosis, estimates for younger-onset groups are unreliable, but the association declared in 2006 that early onset dementia was a national challenge and a future crisis.

In New Hampshire, one of the nation’s fastest aging states, that puts pressure on an already struggling system of care for people who struggle with memory loss and need extra support. The one adult day care center that existed in Concord – TLC – closed this year.

During the reporting of the series that profiled three families, Bouchard’s condition grew worse, and he died, laying bare the inevitable fatal consequences of the illness. Since her husband's death, Brenda Bouchard has become a crusader for families fighting against the disease who are in need of support.

As Brenda cared for Ken, she also had to deal with her 91-year-old mother, Cecile, who was afflicted by the same disease. The two of them had 20 hospitalizations combined, and Brenda often spoke about the difficulty of balancing caregiving for Ken, her mother and her daughter, who was a teenager when Ken was diagnosed. 

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is more than just a death sentence for patients – it’s also a grueling, yearslong commitment for caregivers. Younger patients live longer and can require a decade or more of intensive care.

This challenge of balancing caregiving for multiple family members is something seen often by elder law attorney David Craig, who has worked with thousands of Alzheimer’s patients in his career. 

“Most families can weather six months of end-stage cancer. Turn that into six years with Alzheimer’s, when you’re working full time and taking care of kids, and how are you going to manage that?” Craig told the Monitor.

Alzheimer’s is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, although advocates estimate it could be even higher. In recent years, as medicine has advanced, more physicians have been listing Alzheimer’s as patient’s primary cause of death on death certificates.

“There’s been enough research to show Alzheimer’s can weaken your immune system, weaken your organs and make you susceptible to illnesses. Alzheimer’s is the impetus that makes it more likely to develop something like sepsis,” said Melissa Grenier, Manager of the New Hampshire Alzheimer’s Association. “Now that we know all that, Alzheimer’s is on the record a lot more.”




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