One Year Later: This Doctor with Alzheimer's Diagnoses His Progress

Little has changed in the past year from when Dr. David Compton and I spoke. You may remember him. Dr. Compton is the family physician from Oak Ridge, TN, who in 2015 was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at an early, early stage.

“I’m pretty much in the same place,” he says. “I’m doing everything I know to do in order to not come off this plateau.”

For those of us who’ve grappled with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, you know that to experience little or no change would be welcome news indeed.

David, 62, and I decided to continue our conversation now for a couple of reasons: First, he says, “Talking with you again helps give me a marker from one year to the next.”

Secondly, David has established a routine that might prove useful to those reading this. He sounds more certain of his program today than when he was getting used to it last year. He was a bit tentative then, unsure of the results. Now David sounds like the doctor that he is—more confident of the program’s direction and results to date while he continually tracks markers of his behavior.

                                                              A whirlpool of flowing wood                                                                                                             One of David's many photos from his hikes

                                                              A whirlpool of flowing wood                                                                                                             One of David's many photos from his hikes

I won’t repeat our conversation from last year. If interested, you can read it here: What a Doctor Prescribes on Learning He Has Alzheimer’s.

As we talk, David is articulate on some complex subjects, such as our health care system. “Stuff I’ve known for decades I don’t lose.” As a doctor, he’s followed health care issues closely since the 1990s. In fact, he recently posted a chart online taken from Foreign Policy magazine in which the average life expectancies for citizens of industrialized countries were compared with their per capita health care costs. You can see the story and chart here.  

We continue our conversation:

Carlen: To what extent has your wife Andrea taken on the role of caregiver? (She is by training a nurse practitioner.)
David: Not at all yet. She wants to be sure I’m not declining so she does watch for little, more subtle changes.

       David with Andrea and daughter Amy (May 2012)

       David with Andrea and daughter Amy (May 2012)

CM: You describe your maintenance program as “good cognitive exercises.” What do you mean?
DC:
That includes things that are both quiet and socially interactive.

CM: Such as?
DC:
Well, I love to cook; I have 100 or so recipes that I draw from. And I continue to learn aspects about my photography by working with an expert or two. I also attend lectures at nearby Roane State (community college). And I participate in something of a support group offered by Alzheimer’s Tennessee called the Memory Café (invitation only). I also go to new sci-fi movies with my buddies, and I’m still working in the street kitchen every Tuesday.

CM: From your posts on Facebook and Twitter you appear to read a lot.
DC:
  Yes, short news articles and medical journal articles. But I can’t finish a book. Andrea often clips articles that she thinks would interest me.

CM: So you’re learning a lot?
DC:
Yes. My routine is fixed, but I'm learning a good bit from the activities within my routine.  

CM: How often do you visit your doctor?
DC:
I see her twice a year. (Dr. Monica Crane is a geriatric medical specialist and researcher.) But I visit my cognitive therapist every two weeks. She designed a lot of what I’m doing. If you don’t deal with depression and fear, it can cause problems. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching a patient—myself—as I look for changes.

                               Camouflaged turtle

                               Camouflaged turtle

CM: Do you still have nightmares or panic attacks?
DC:
No. But I do get frustrated occasionally, wanting to do something I no longer can. I wish I could still practice medicine, but it got too overwhelming.      

CM: Are you continuing to walk five miles a day, weather permitting?
DC:
As much as I’m able. I’m having some trouble with my hip so that’s slowing me down. I always go with a friend if I’m on a new trail. And I’m shooting as many pictures as I can.

CM: Are you taking any meds?
DC:
No. I was on a medication a year ago, but it wasn’t worth it.

CM: Are you in an experimental program?
DC:
I initially was told I needed to be worse off before I could participate. But the more I read about the research studies, they’re not that good. I’d rather do the cognitive work I’m doing.

Thank you, David, for taking the time to update us on the ways you’re taking care of yourself. I’m sure readers will gain some valuable insights.

Carlen
www.carlenmaddux.com
carlen@carlenmaddux.com

P.S. Cookeville, TN (My hometown). I’m sharing our story on Saturday, May 20th at 1:30 (CDT) at the Public Library. I’d love to see you if you’re in town. Two days earlier on Thursday, May 18th I’m talking in Knoxville at an Alzheimer’s Tennessee Inc. meeting. It will be a half-day morning session with lunch in which I and others will be speaking. For more info, click here.

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