Years ago, when Dennis Myers worked with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients as a physician assistant, it never occurred to him that he might one day be in their shoes.
“Absolutely not,” said Myers, a resident of Reisterstown who attends High Holiday services at Beth Israel Congregation, when asked if the thought had ever crossed his mind. “There was no reason to be. I wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms. I wasn’t even thinking about symptoms like that.”
In 2019, a doctor diagnosed Myers with atypical Alzheimer’s, and he gradually learned the necessity of relying on the love and support of his wife and on the friendship of a pair of men riding in the same boat as him.
Myers, 70, was raised in Baltimore and had both his bar mitzvah and confirmation at Har Sinai Congregation. He later attended Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and did graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, where he received training to be a physician’s assistant.
Myers spent four decades working as a physician’s assistant in internal medicine for a group of private practice physicians. It was not unusual, he recalled, for some of his patients in their 60s or older to come in concerned that they had started to become forgetful, or that they were having trouble finding the right words to express themselves. In addition to advising these patients on the importance of staying active through exercise and abstaining from driving, he remembered one particularly important role was simply listening to their concerns.
“In the beginning, you try to understand what their complaints are, and how they fit within their lifestyle,” Myers said. “And that often is comforting, because somebody is listening and they’re hoping to get something done about it.”
He eventually began having his own issues with forgetfulness. Family members advised him to get an evaluation, and he received his diagnosis of atypical Alzheimer’s.
“When I began to think that maybe, indeed, I did have that condition, I really pushed it away,” Myers said. “I wouldn’t say that I was depressed, I wouldn’t say that I was excited, I wouldn’t say that I was anxious. I just put it off.”
It wasn’t until he found himself in a meeting for people with Alzheimer’s that the full impact of his situation began to hit him, he said.
“I was tearful, I was upset, but hearing that you should be included in a group of people who have Alzheimer’s, that was the nail,” Myers said.
Since then, he has adopted a sober outlook on his condition.
“I think that it has given me the belief that I’ve got something that may very well kill me,” Myers said. “I intend to try to push it off as long as I possibly can. Hopefully that’s going to be more than 20 years, but that’s what my goal is.”
Through this ordeal, Myers spoke highly of the support he has received from his wife, Judi Myers, 67.
“I don’t think that I can give her any more credit than is possible for being the best caretaker that I ever had,” Dennis Myers said. “She has been patient, she’s been nurturing. … She can read my emotional states, however sometimes they get a little down in the dumps. She’s my lifeline.”
For her part, Judi Myers acknowledged that her husband’s initial diagnosis came as a shock.
“Thinking about what was to come was very difficult for me,” she said. “And then I had a little counseling, and I told myself, my parents were Holocaust survivors. And I’ve always been taught by them that when something bad happens, you just keep on going. You just make the best, and just don’t give up, keep going, because things could get better.”
Dennis Myers has also received emotional support from Jim Hursey and Mike Razzi, two friends he met through the Alzheimer’s Association. The trio typically meet each week, often by phone or FaceTime, and have chosen the name of “The Optimists” for when they go on walks for Alzheimer’s.
“Each one of us have grown to be dependent on each other, because we understand each other,” Dennis Myers said. “We went beyond having to talk about Alzheimer’s all the time. … We’ve gone along to become interested in their families and their life stories.
“And all of this has just molded into this wonderful formation that allows us to get by and to be encouraged,” Myers said.