Feb 132015
 

Mark’s basketball career has spanned the entirety of our 20-year marriage. We have moved a lot – experiencing an ever-changing landscape of varying cities, schools, friends and basketball seasons, with invariable ups and downs. My role in Mark’s career has always been to find stability in these times of change, drawing from my relationship with my family. Some changes, however, are harder to face than others.

Nearly nine years ago, my father died of younger-onset (early-onset) Alzheimer’s disease; he was 68 years old. Mark and I were living in Wichita, Kansas with our three young children – Will, 7; Ella, 4; and Leo, 1. I was devastated not only by my own loss, but the thought that my children would not grow up around my father.

Both Mark and I are extremely close with our families and derive much of our identities and strength of character from the foundations of our childhood, specifically from our parents. I grew up in a close family – the kind that sat round the dinner table together and did family chores together. My dad was a huge influence on me and my siblings. I had a lot in common with him; we shared a love of cooking and wine, and enjoyed exercising our creativity. I credit my work ethic, loyalty and family-first mentality to him.

Both my parents had always enjoyed sports, but it wasn’t until I fell in love with Mark that they fell in love with basketball. I was still in college when Mark and I began dating, so Mark met my dad when he was still himself, still the man who raised me, the ever-consummate business man. He and Mark forged their own relationship right away. There was a lot of mutual respect and admiration, a lot of overlapping drive for success despite odds and obstacles in both of their respective careers.

Mark still remembers my dad that way. I am so grateful that he calls upon those memories when sometimes I struggle to remember the man he was before Alzheimer’s. I think of his state during the final years when he and my mother lived in Wichita, when I took on a major role in his caretaking and decision-making. While difficult, mine and my father’s bond was solidified during this time.

When assisting my mother in his caretaking, my biggest challenge was not being able to help him when he was scared. Sometimes I would lose patience with him because you can’t “see” the effects of Alzheimer’s at first. He would look perfectly healthy and like his old self but wouldn’t be able to carry out a simple task like putting his coat on and getting in the car. I wanted to protect him and tell people he had Alzheimer’s because his behavior was so different from when he was healthy. He had always been this big, strong, brilliant, charismatic man and the disease took that away. My mom would always tell me that I had a way with him; he trusted and listened to me. I made him feel safe. That is by far the biggest reward – to give something back to the man who gave me everything.

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Mark and I feel fortunate that, as the basketball coach for the University of Maryland, he can bring awareness and support to a disease set to escalate rapidly as the baby boom generation ages. We feel that we have been given this platform to help make a difference in the fight against Alzheimer’s. No one should have to watch their father or other loved ones suffer from this devastating disease.

About the Author: Ann Turgeon, wife of University of Maryland Basketball Coach Mark Turgeon, assisted her mother in caring for her father, who had younger-onset (early-onset) Alzheimer’s. She shares her story here to let other families know they are not alone—and in hopes of inspiring more people to take action in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

  9 Responses to “Bringing Awareness and Support to the Court: University of Maryland Basketball Coach’s Wife on Why She’s Fighting to End Alzheimer’s”

  1. thank you for sharing your experiences. There are many of us out there fighting this fight in various stages from mild and on to severe. As someone with mild ajzeimers, your story is helping me deal with my own experiences and in dealing as positively as possible with my wonderful caring family.
    A.D.

    • thank you. I am learning from reading what others say / I have mild alzheimers and in my working life was a Speech Pathologist who often worked with alzheimers patients.
      A.D.

  2. Do caregiver's find that Loved ones with Alzheimer's personalities change or mostly remain the same?

  3. Ann,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story!!! My husband also had Alzheimer's and was in the middle stage when he began having strokes. He still knew us until he had the final stroke that took his eyesight, movement and voice. He lay in a coma from November 11 to January 17 when he died!! It is the most heart breaking and sad illness of all!!! His Mother had also had the disease and we had helped to care for her so I knew a lot of what we were facing. We all need to share our stories and offer support for others in the role of caretakers or family!!! Sometimes just a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen to us!!! Again, thank you for all you are doing!!!

    Phyllis Caudill
    Roxana, Ky

  4. Thank you for telling your story about your Father’s journey with this devastating disease. Our family has also been affected with Alzheimer’s. Our Mother was diagnosed almost three years ago and has lost a Brother and two Sisters who had Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Mom justed turned 77 years old last November. She is doing well for now with Namenda and our daily prayer is that she will not progress with disease as fast. This will be our 4th year to participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Our family will continue to support the Alzheimer’s Association in making awareness to this disease. If a person has not experienced Alzheimer’s or Dementia with a loved one, they do not understand how heartbreaking it is to watch someone you love forget who you are.

    Take care and God Bless you and your family,

    Jan

  5. I wish you the best of luck. I too lost someone to early onset Alzheimer's. My husband died at the age of 64. Leaving me and our three teenaged children. They helped me care for him while I worked. Few people truly understand how the caregivers are affected for better or worse. Alzheimer's stole my husband, their father and impacted our future, changing all of our hopes and plans forever.

  6. Dear Coach, Ann and family,
    Sorry to learn of the loss of your father. I had two wonderful Aunts, lost to Alz, now I'm taking care of my brother with early onset Alz. I have vowed to do something everyday to raise awareness and funds to expedite a cure for this horrific disease before my brother disappears completely.
    I will keep voting. Thank you so much for what you are doing. It means the world to me & my brother.
    Dena & David

  7. Sad all around. Do you caregiver/family members find that loved ones with the disease, have personality changes or just the "worst" comes to the forefront? We are in middle stages with my mom.

  8. Alzheimer took my mother from me and now has my husband in its grip…I live in fear of this dreadful disease because it's so prevalent in my family. I'm still caring and grieving for my loving husband. I pray everyday for a cure .. Together we can all make a difference.

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