Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Coming to terms with a dementia diagnosis

GARY FRIEDMAN   |   Los Angeles Times

GARY FRIEDMAN | Los Angeles Times

Ronald Reisner was a respected physician, a professor and chief of dermatology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who at 73 was still going strong in a career he loved. But, secretly, he suspected something was amiss. He had always been one of the smartest, most hard-charging among his contemporaries. "But in some part of me, I knew I was not at the top of my game," he says.

"It wasn't that I was making mistakes or couldn't stand up and talk for an hour," he says. "But I think somehow I knew that things that used to take 10 percent of my energy to master now took me 20 percent."

His wife of 37 years noticed her husband's facility for multitasking had slipped a bit, but she thought the distractions of a surgery he had undergone and a new home probably were to blame. At work, Reisner says, "no one ever said anything."

Reisner's mother had developed dementia in her late 60s, but Reisner had always assumed that — given his intensity — his health trajectory would more likely mimic that of his father, who died at age 42 after four heart attacks.

Instead, at 73, he was strong and healthy, but concerned about his memory. A neurologist ordered a preliminary test of mental function and found him fit. But a year later, he was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, and, soon after, with Alzheimer's disease.

Extremely articulate and active in the Alzheimer's Association's California Southland chapter, Reisner today finds his problems with forgetfulness the most troublesome of his Alzheimer's symptoms. He takes medication that he believes has helped slow his decline, and he uses a small dictating machine and notepad to scribble notes that help him stay on track throughout the day.

But he still finds it frustrating to go upstairs for something and find he has forgotten what he went for. Without a note to remind him, the memory of his intended mission will not come back. And after a lifetime of keeping control over his emotions, Reisner says he has, several times, let himself scream and rage at his fate. "It's very important for me to get those feelings out."

Reisner, 79, says that knowing his diagnosis early on is the only way he would want it. Knowing what to expect, he has found new pleasures in a life now lived much more in the moment.

"I was always very goal-oriented, did not take much time to stop and smell the roses," he says. Now he enjoys his garden and has come to appreciate his wife's strength in the face of his cognitive changes. "Together, we've laughed and cried a lot," he says. "I could cry and know that was not going to destroy her."

Coming to terms with a dementia diagnosis 11/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 3:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Los Angeles Times.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Romano: C'mon Rick Baker, tell us how you really feel about Trump

    Local Government

    A brief timeline of presidential politics in St. Petersburg:

    Rick Baker, center,  waves to drivers while holding a sign that reads "Thank You" along with his family and supporters.
  2. In St. Petersburg mayor's race, Rick vs. Rick is also Rays vs. Rowdies


    ST. PETERSBURG — Maybe before the NFL's national anthem uproar you assumed professional sports were apolitical endeavors. You'd be dead wrong in the case of St. Petersburg's mayoral race.

    Rep. Janet Cruz D-Tampa, left, Rafaela Amador, Tampa Bay Rays Senior Director of Public Relations, center, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman talk with reporters during a press conference at Signature Flight Support in Tampa after returning from Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 11. (WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times)
  3. What we've learned from the Bucs' and Bills' playoff droughts


    Is it possible for the Buccaneers and Bills to be any farther off the NFL's radar? You get the feeling schedule-makers didn't think twice about putting this one down for 1 p.m. Sunday — the let's-hope-no-one-notices time slot.

    [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  4. Motorcycle driver killed after hitting turning car on Keene Road in Largo


    A motorcycle driver was killed Friday evening when he struck a turning car, Largo police said.

  5. Drive-by shooting near Robles Park injures four people standing outside in crowd


    TAMPA — Four people standing in a crowd were hit by bullets during a drive-by shooting near Robles Park in Tampa late Friday, Tampa police said.