Video features previous coverage of the FDA taking steps to approve a new drug for treating Alzheimer’s disease.

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — For their first date, Sandusky residents Pam and Joe Droll took a bus to Amish country to look at trains. They married two years later and have been together for almost a decade, traveling and spending time with their three children and six grandchildren.

Two years ago, while driving the same route home she always took, Pam pulled over to the side of the road and called Joe, because she couldn’t remember where she was.

“It was just like a snap of the finger — where am I?” Pam recalled. “I couldn’t tell Joe where I was. So that was a very, very scary time.”

That moment led to months of grueling appointments and tests, and Pam, 62, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2022, according to a release from the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter.

“As far as catching it early, it’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Joe said. “It’s good, but it’s also scary to think about the whole process. On the positive side of catching it early, and I try to tell this to Pam all the time, we have to focus on enjoying each day, because unfortunately, we just hope that it’s a slow thing so we can enjoy as much as we can.”

Pam is taking medication to help slow the disease’s progression and hopes that because it was caught early, the treatment will provide many more good years. She is experiencing anxiety and seasonal depression along with her Alzheimer’s symptoms and enjoys the “happy lights” Joe installed to brighten their home, according to Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter.

Pam retired from her position as director of the Erie County Chamber of Commerce as her symptoms continued to make themselves known. She and Joe are in the process of moving to be closer to family. Joe cares for his 97-year-old mother, who is also living with Alzheimer’s.

The couple said many of these transitions have been easier because Pam’s Alzheimer’s was caught early.

Regular cognitive testing and awareness of early warning signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia can be a vital tool in identifying the disease and beginning treatment as early as possible, according to Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter.

One step that everyone can take is to ask for annual cognitive screens as part of yearly wellness exams.

“Health care providers have a responsibility to impart an understanding of cognitive impairment, and what individuals can do to reduce their risk,” Dr. Joel Vandersluis, a Dayton neurologist with Neurology Diagnostics, said.

“Ideally, this should take place before they show signs of dementia. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, and diabetes can all influence the risk for Alzheimer’s.”

Vandersluis urges patients to be assertive in asking for cognitive testing as part of their annual wellness exams. They should ask their doctor if they are at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and understand the actions they can take to help reduce some of that risk.

“Everyone, at any age, can adopt healthy lifestyles to improve their overall physical health and the health of their brain and to reduce their risk for cognitive decline later on,” Vandersluis said.

“It’s never too early. But it’s never too late, either. Don’t sit back and resign yourself to the thought that losing brain function is a normal part of aging. Research is demonstrating that it doesn’t have to be.”

The Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter offers a free education program, 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s, that teaches participants what they should look for in themselves or their loved ones. You can read about the 10 warning signs here.

Early detection offers families more options, which is something Pam and Joe Droll said they are grateful for.

“We have a strong relationship, and I’m not going anywhere,” Joe said. “We’re in this together, and I know she’d do the same for me.”

Those concerned about themselves or a loved one can contact the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter office at 937-291-1999 to schedule a consultation.

Additionally, the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline can be reached at 800-272-3900.