“If I can get into the woods, I’m happy. I make sure I take my camera, back pack, poncho, and my iPhone with its maps. I study those maps repeatedly, obsessively.”
That’s Dr. David Compton. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in May of 2015, although he and his wife began to wonder what was going on back in 2011.
“I quit my family practice in early 2014,” he says. He was one of nine partners in his clinic. “I was having a terrible time remembering. I was going into the office first and leaving last, getting up at 4 o’clock to do my paperwork. We began using Electronic Medical Records (EMR), and I just couldn’t pick up on the technology.” He reverted to using pen and pad, he says, but instead of using one pad at a time as he always did, he had several scattered throughout his office.
“I was getting quite depressed.”
David lives in the Knoxville area where he practiced family medicine for 30 years in nearby Oak Ridge. He and I grew up in the same small Tennessee town of Cookeville, and our families went to the same church. Until recently, our paths had not crossed since 1963 when I graduated from high school. David graduated nine years later. Our sisters were good friends.
He’s willing to discuss his challenges publicly, David says, because “talking about this helps me to know where I’ve been and where I am now.” It’s another form of mapping, which he’s always done. “As a kid, I drew maps all over my room.”
While still practicing, David says he was overcome with ‘panic attacks.’ “The struggle was worsening every day.” Those attacks disappeared when he retired, although nightmares continued for a while. “But I rarely have one anymore.”
When hit with the diagnosis last May, he says, “It took me six months to accept it. I was not displaying the symptoms I’d seen in some of my older patients. Finally, my doctor told me that we’d caught this at a very early stage, and she said, ‘That’s a good thing.’”
David works closely with a therapist to help cope with fear and other issues that arise. They meet for an hour or so every other week. The counselor helps him set up daily routines and stick with them.
“I don’t have as much fear now that I’ve accepted the diagnosis,” he says. “And I’m no longer afraid for our future, although I am still concerned. I could always solve problems easy. But now I get frustrated, super-frustrated.”
A top priority for David is to reduce the stress in his life. “I probably would still be working if I’d been in a less demanding career.”
A key to reducing the stress, he says, is to walk up to five miles every day, weather permitting. David is usually alone when he goes trekking out in the woods. “I make sure my iPhone (with its maps and GPS) is fully charged.”
Other ways David seeks to relax and relieve stress include:
- Photography. He picked up this hobby after retiring. “I use these pictures to help remind me what I felt when I was there.” He seems to have a natural eye, based on the three photos shown here.
- He’s applied to get into a Phase 2 experimental study for persons at his particular stage with this disease. “This is an exciting time in Alzheimer’s research,” he says.
- He goes to an inner city church on Tuesdays where he helps prepare and serve meals. Very important to him is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25:35-40: “…for I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.…” Says David: “Nobody in the United States should go to bed hungry.”
- “I deal with my frustration and anger not by just talking about it,” he says, “but by doing something about it.” Like serving meals and walking in the woods and shooting photos.
A big problem now, he says, “is struggling to put words together.” That, however, did not surface during our telephone conversations, which were fluent and coherent.
“I like that part of your post (from two weeks ago) about defying the verdict,” says David.
“As my doctor tells me, my ‘job’ now is to eat correctly, walk five miles a day, do other exercise, and do all the brain exercise I can tolerate. That’s how I will try to defy the verdict.”
P.S. As usual, feel free to forward this post. If you haven’t yet, you may sign up to receive my free weekly newsletter here.