James Dooley of Fairfax enjoys riding his motorcycle.
"I've ridden now for probably 45 years, yeah," he said.
But he worried those days would be over. He was diagnosed last January with Alzheimer's disease.
"Initially I was very upset, and I didn't want it," he said. "And then I realized with the help of Sheila, my wife, it was part of what we have to go through."
Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia. It's a degenerative disease causing changes in memory, thinking and behavior. The cause of Alzheimer's is unknown. But experts have a basic understanding of how the disease causes loss of memory and other functions.
"Neurons are eaten away. They believe it has to do with the presence of plaques and tangles that are abnormally overproductive in the brain," said Jessie Cornell of the Alzheimer's Association Vermont Chapter.
The Alzheimer's Association Vermont Chapter held its first dialogue between the community and individuals with dementia Tuesday at the Champlain Senior Center in Burlington.
"Really try to move away from the stigma and social isolation that happens as a result of the diagnosis," Cornell said.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, the disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Although there's no cure for Alzheimer's, research continues, as do efforts to raise awareness about the devastating disease.
And popular culture is bringing the issue of Alzheimer's to the forefront. The movie "Still Alice" starring Julianne Moore just hit theaters; it's about a woman living with Alzheimer's.
"The conversation now comes to the dinner table, whether you're out with friends or your meeting with family. It becomes a much easier way to talk about challenges that people are often very afraid of, and rightfully so," Cornell said.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease or related dementia; 11,000 of those people live in Vermont.
Greg Lothrop of Milton was diagnosed with vascular dementia four years ago.
"I had to look at the fact, did I have dementia or did dementia have me? And I decided that I have dementia and that I will do my best to live with that," Lothrop said.
His wife, Carol, says he's still the same Greg he was four years ago, and although there's nothing they can do about his dementia, they're going to live life to the fullest while they can. The same goes for the Dooleys.
"I still have a lot of function, I can still do things, I can still interact with people, I can still help people," James Dooley said.
Dooley says this spring he's going to go on more motorcycle rides, enjoying the ride of life.
The Alzheimer's Association will be at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier Feb. 12 as part of a national movement to speak with state representatives about Alzheimer's.
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