Jul 032012
American Flag

I have faced many battles in my life.  I served in Vietnam as a Marine Corps corporal. I also completed four tours in Iraq in the U.S. Army, and four of my sons served in Iraq, too.  But all my battles have not been while serving in the military.

My mother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.  I lost my son, Dennis Jr., in a motorcycle accident.  And now, I am facing my own battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

I was preparing for a sixth deployment to Iraq when my Colonel and my wife brought up concerns about changes they were seeing.  I had just received a Secretary Manager of the Year Award, but I was aware that something was wrong.  I had been waking up in the middle of the night realizing there was something I forgot to do — or something I needed to do.  Recognizing my memory was changing, I decided to retire.   Too many people’s lives would be at risk if I went on a last tour in Iraq.

I was diagnosed in 2008 with early-stage Alzheimer’s.  When I received the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, it was almost a relief.  It provided an explanation for what was going on.  It also provided a path forward.  There were plans I needed to put in place for the future.

I had made my living will before my first trip to Iraq. But after the diagnosis, my wife Mary and I updated our advance directives, power of attorneys and will.

Dennis Henley Sr. with General Franks and son Dennis Henley Jr.

Everything has been documented, so there is no dispute and no questions for my children when this disease progresses.  We dotted all the “I’s” and crossed all the “T’s” to make sure everything is in place. It’s an important thing for anyone who has been diagnosed to do.

It’s also important to realize that a diagnosis isn’t the end of the world.  Truly – it’s not.  You aren’t alone. There are so many people available to help you and so many people committed to finding a cure.  It’s difficult to accept, but easier to do if you are open and honest with those around you.

In fact, I talked until 2 a.m. about my diagnosis with one of my military buddies last week.  I have friends that I went through grade school, high school and the military with, and we have no secrets. We openly talk about this disease.  It’s a source of strength and comfort to have the people around me know what is going on. Alzheimer’s isn’t my fault.  It’s no one’s fault.  And there is no reason to feel guilt over it.  It’s out of my control.

It really helped having an Alzheimer’s Association representative from my local chapter come and explain why things aren’t like they used to be to my family.  I have 11 grandchildren – and they all understand that things aren’t quite the same and the whole family is making adjustments.  But that doesn’t keep us from spending meaningful time together, which is what I plan to do tomorrow on the Fourth of July.

We will all dress in red, white and blue and gather together for a barbeque at my son’s house.  Our flag will be at half mast, and I will remember the battles I have been in and the one I am facing now.  I believe we are here to help others – to leave a legacy.  As I spend time with my family, I know that I have left my mark by raising my family to be good citizens.  And I still have more to give. I will keep on moving forward and not give up.

Dennis Henley is a member of the national Alzheimer’s Association 2012 Early-Stage Advisory Group. He was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s in 2008. Prior to his retirement, he served in the U.S. military for 26 years, including working in counter intelligence for the Army and as the Chief of Security for the Army Corp of Engineers in Jacksonville, Fla.  Dennis lives in Littlestown, Pa., with his wife, Mary.  

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  10 Responses to “Alzheimer’s Is One of My Greatest Battles”

  1. God bless you for your article! My father ret Lt colonel Ed Tozer is in a memory care unit. So important for everyone to know that we didn't case it…can't control it…or cure it!

  2. What an amazing outlook! God bless you & your family through this battle I lost my father to early Alzheimers, he was 56, also a Vietnam vet & 26 police veteran. It was the toughest ordeal to go throught, but family means everything at this point~ wishing you the best.

  3. You are quite amazing as God's tool. Thanks for your service to our blessed country. You are His example of Godly strength and character. I pray for you, your family, and those who will assist you during this bout of being a strong lead in character while handling such difficulty! What an outstanding person you are. Thanks again for being a strong stand for us in more ways than one. God bless you.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing. And thank you for your years of service preserving our freedoms. My mother has alzheimer’s and it has been quite a struggle for her and her husband. We noticed the early signs of alzheimers in her about 5 or so years ago and it was quite a change. A paradigm shift really in how we view our future with my mom. I keep hope alive that true treatment (and I’m open to natural methods, lifestyle changes making a big difference) and preventative options will continue to be discovered. Thanks again for sharing your life with us.

  5. My grandmother unfortunately suffered from this horrible disease. Your story is very inspirational. What people need to understand is there is a tremendous amount of help out there for patients and their families.

    I am a NURSE! of many years experience working with SPECIAL PEOPLE, who have ALZHEIMER's!
    I PRAY every day, for a cure!
    Connie from SD

  7. God Bless you, my husband as diagnosed in 2010..now in Nursing Home..No longer knows us, his famiy and friends.

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