Gwen Richards in Prairie Village, Kan. She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 2008.
Gwen Richards in Prairie Village, Kan. She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 2008. StoryCorps
Helen Ruth Huggins was the glue for her family, her daughter Gwen Richards remembers, and very popular among their relatives.
Huggins was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease when she was in her 60s; Richards, 55, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's in 2008.
Richards, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., realized that her mother might have Alzheimer's when she started getting lost. Huggins had gone across the street to see a neighbor. When she left for home, she headed in the opposite direction instead.
By this time, Richards had gotten her mother a bracelet to wear that had her name and address printed on it.
"A lady found her and gave her a ride home," Richards said.
When Huggins knocked at the door, her worried daughter was there waiting for her. But Huggins had no recollection of what had happened.
"It's just that with this disease, even though she was physically there, we lost her," Richards said.
That aspect of life with Alzheimer's still haunts Richards, especially now that she, too, has been diagnosed with the disease.
Richards tried to tell her doctors that she had early-onset Alzheimer's, but they didn't believe her. They asked about Richards' work life and her relationship with her husband, and when she said both were fine, they told her not to worry.
"If people aren't looking for it, they won't see it," Richards said. "And the first test strongly suggested it; the second test confirmed it — as much as can be because it cannot be totally diagnosed until you pass away."
Her children, Richards said, concern her the most. She worries that they might go through the same heartache she went through with her mother and that they could get it themselves. She thinks about the grandchildren she might never see.
"Those are the things that concern me the most," Richards said. "Not necessarily that I won't be here. But, the family."
Produced for Morning Edition by Vanara Taing. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.