FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Mauricio Pena is 39, but he’s battling a disease normally associated with someone twice his age.
Two years ago his family noticed changes. “Something was not right,” said Pena’s sister Yolanda Padilla. “He was very distant. He was forgetting stuff. I would call him and he didn’t remember I called him. He was completely forgetting conversations, tasks at work. He would take money out of his different accounts and wouldn’t remember doing that.”
Mauricio has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. People between the ages of 30 and 60 comprise about five percent of all Alzheimer’s patients. “It affects their ability to work and obviously if affects their longevity and what they have to look forward to,” said Dr. Janice Knebl, a Fort Worth geriatrician.
“He was a tire mechanic, and he did that for fifteen years and all the sudden at work he couldn’t finish any simple little task he’d done for 15 years,” Padilla said. “So he lost his job.”
That put the burden of caring for Mauricio and his teenage daughter squarely on his family. Ultimate, his wife divorced him.
“That’s when I brought him home to my home,” Padilla said. “He’s 39! He should be right now working hard, looking forward to walking with a daughter down from graduation and seeing her graduate.”
Now Mauricio can’t even remember his way around the Alzheimer’s day care center he visits. “Mauricio,” Padilla said as she guided her brother away from the wrong door to get into the day care’s lobby. “Lets go this way.”
“For example, tying your shoes,” Padilla said. “We do that every day. We put on our tennis shoes, our work shoes, and we tie the laces. We do that every day. For him, it’s a struggle. He can’t even figure out which is his right shoe for his right foot. It’s a struggle.”
In early on-set Alzheimer’s cases there’s usually little doctor’s can do. “The majority of those cases are going to be genetically linked, or familial Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Knebl said. “So unfortunately in those cases probably not.”
“As a matter of fact we used to get up and say, ‘Lets take a road trip’,” Padilla said about her and her husband. “We can’t do that anymore. If I want to take a vacation or we want to go for a weekend we have to make arrangements. We can’t just go like we used to. Its been a big adjustment.”
Doctors say the best thing you can do is look for the signs, have it diagnosed and then let the patient be a part of what happens next — while they still can. “Even if the news is bad news that you have the disease I think it will help you at least with the planning and being a part of the planning,” Dr. Knebl said.
“You need to kind of wake up and listen to that person,” Knebl said about noticing changes in family members. “I love my brother but I know there’s going to come a day where he’s just not going to know I’m around and I’ll have to make some arrangements for him and i’ll have to make those difficult decisions.”
To find more information about early onset Alzheimer’s disease: