Keith Moreland shares insights on adapting to a new life after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in his late 50s.
Keith Moreland was only 57 years old when he was diagnosed with both Alzheimer’s and normal pressure hydrocephalus in 2018. Having cared for his grandmother who lived with dementia, Moreland had a picture of what lay ahead of him, and he found himself asking, “Why me?”
But life goes on, Moreland’s wife reminded him. Since then, he has lived by a mantra that has guided him along the way: This journey is filled with challenges, but make the best of what you can still do, and enjoy the time that remains.
In a LiveTalk with Being Patient, Moreland speaks about looking beyond the shock and sorrow of his diagnosis and staying active with hobbies, including sports, and his hope that people living dementia — and those around them — understand there is still a life to live following a diagnosis.
Being Patient: Your neurologist said the traumatic brain injury that you sustained during your military service was a major factor behind your Alzheimer’s. Can you tell us a little bit about your time in the Army?
Keith Moreland: I was a mechanic in the Army, and served in West Germany at the time from ’78 to ’81. We were training maneuvers and the vehicle I was riding in rolled over. My head and my spine went up against a four-by-four board, so I wound up with a head injury and a spinal cord injury. I couldn’t perform any of the work that you’re supposed to do in the military, even though they made a lot of my regular duties lighter. [I was] medically discharged from the Army.
I was disappointed. I [was] coming home before I could even serve a full-time enlistment. My father had served. My grandfather had served. As a matter of fact, he was shot down in the Korean War while serving in the Air Force.
Being Patient: What did you do after being discharged from the Army?
Keith Moreland: I went back to college after I got out. I used my benefits and got a degree in business. When I graduated, I didn’t want to work behind the desk. I know it sounds crazy but I became a trucker. [The father of] a friend of mine that I grew up with worked in the business, so I went to work for him. But after a few years, I decided I didn’t like that kind of life.
I eventually became a financial analyst for a company that’s the largest consumer products manufacturer in the world. I wound up having to retire in 2019 with my disability.
Being Patient: What were some of the early signs of your illnesses?
Keith Moreland: We were going through some changes at work. In 2017, the only day I took off was Christmas Day. I worked 364 days that year. I started noticing I was having some problems concentrating.
I was specifically in charge of shortages. Say if a company ordered something and then they said, ‘We didn’t get [certain] parts or this is not the exact model we ordered,’ it was up to me to find out what happened. I started having problems with being able to keep track of everything. I had to give a report to the presidents, vice presidents, CFOs (chief financial officers) and senior management every Friday. I was having a hard time even doing the reports, the spreadsheet and stuff.
I went to my boss and I was like, ‘Something’s going on. Something’s not right.’ She was like, ‘We’re under a lot of stress. We’re working a lot of hours. Don’t worry about it. Things are going to ease up.’
[Things] didn’t get better [for me]. That got scary. In 2018, I wound up having a seizure in May. [After a series of medical tests, the doctors] found [that I had] not only dementia, but [also] NPH, normal pressure hydrocephalus.
Being Patient: How did you feel when you received your diagnoses?
Keith Moreland: I was frustrated. My grandmother, my mom’s mom, and all of her sisters had [dementia]. For almost the last six years of [my grandmother’s] life, I had to take care of her. My mom went blind from diabetic retinopathy. I was the only child of my mom, so I had to help take care of both of them.
I watched everything that happened with my grandmother. My wife saw the same thing with her grandmother and had to take care of her. We kind of knew where we were headed down.
The thing that scared me was I didn’t think there was any help. The whole time [I was caring for my grandmother], and my wife will tell you the same thing about dealing with her grandmother, nobody ever offered any help. No resources. Nothing.
About three weeks before the diagnosis, one of the vice presidents of the division [in the company where I was working] talked me into signing up for A Ride to Remember, a fundraiser for Alzheimer’s. I love road cycling. I’ve got a Cannondale Caad 8 Tiagra that I used to ride. Having been down the Alzheimer’s road with my grandmother, [I said], ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’ Three weeks later, I was diagnosed.
Being Patient: At the fundraiser, you learned about the resources and programs offered by the Alzheimer’s Association. What was that like for you?
Keith Moreland: That was really the first I knew there was any hope in this. Otherwise, I’m not going to lie, it was one big pity party: Why me? What has happened?
Finally my wife looked at me and she said, ‘Why not you? You’re the one who can be a spokesperson. Why can’t it be you?’ It was a wake up call. It’s been ‘why not me’ ever since.
Being Patient: You mentioned your love for cycling. Can you tell us about your transition from riding a two-wheeled bicycle to riding the tadpole trike?
Keith Moreland: [I have] residual balance [problems from NPH], and there always will be something that will get better but will never completely go away. We have a hospital near me called Roger C. Peace Rehabilitation Hospital. They sponsor [an] adaptive sports program [for] people like me. They take the different sports and activities you would do and adapt them.
I can’t ride a regular two-wheeled bicycle, so now, I’m on a three-wheeled tricycle. It sits low to the ground. They provide the equipment. There’s somebody who accompanies me on the ride. I [also] do archery, flying fishing, sled hockey. It gives me ways to keep my mind active.
Being Patient: Interacting with other people in all these activities must be very important for you.
Keith Moreland: This is a very isolating disease. I think part of it is [people] don’t know what to say, like ‘How do I act around him?’ Well, I’m still Keith. Yes, there’s some new things I have to deal with, but everything else about me hasn’t changed.
People stopped coming around. They stopped calling. It’s a very isolating disease. I have talked to a lot of other people that live with dementia and they have voiced the same thing. I don’t think anybody’s trying to be mean. They’re not trying to be cruel. They don’t know what to do, so rather than [figuring] it out, they move on and hope they don’t have to deal with it.
Being Patient: Do you have any advice for people living with dementia on how to address this?
Keith Moreland: Accept that people are not going to know what to do. Sit down with people and I started doing that. I’ll call them up and say, ‘Hey, you want to go grab lunch, go out and do something?’ Show them you can still be you.
If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, and you’re dealing with somebody that’s living with some form of dementia, be there and be friends with them. Be supportive of them. Call them up and say, ‘What can I do?’
Call up the caregiver and ask, ‘Hey, do you need a break today?,’ or ‘can I come over and sit with [the person] and you can do whatever you want to?’ That means a lot.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Contact Nicholas Chan at email@example.com