As Memories Slip Away, A Grandfather Reflects

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Bob Patterson and his wife, Karen, spoke about his memory loss in Los Angeles.

Bob Patterson and his wife, Karen, spoke about his memory loss in Los Angeles. StoryCorps hide caption

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Bob Patterson worked as an aerospace engineer for three decades. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2008. His wife, Karen, has been by his side all along. Recently, Bob told her how living with the disease has affected him.

"I feel like I'm the same person, but I know I'm kind of a big load to deal with," Bob says with a laugh.

"You know how we talk sometimes about who we really are — what is our essence?" Karen says. "Memories are not who you are."

"Well, I think one thing that I experience with Alzheimer's is, I live in the moment — because I can't remember what happened yesterday. I can't remember what happened 10 minutes ago. But I'm much more present, I think."

"Do you think about the future?" Karen asks her husband.

"I know that there's probably a bad time that comes in the future," says Bob. "This disease gets more wicked — but I don't obsess on it, and I just do a nice job of ignoring it."

"With this disease, you moved from somebody that lived in your head a lot to somebody that lives in their heart," Karen says.

"The head is an overstated organ," Bob says, drawing a laugh from Karen.

He continues: "The heart is where all the action is. And I can remember things that occur in my heart much better than things that occur in my head: having fun with the kids; laughing; our new grandchild."

The couple has three children — Dylan and Melanie, from Karen's previous marriage, and Matt. Melanie has a 4-month-old son, Oliver.

"Speaking of this new grandchild," Karen asks, "is there something that you'd like him to know?"

"I would like him to know that I fell in love with him the first time I saw him in the hospital," Bob says. "And every time I see that sweet little face just makes me feel good. I'm looking forward to hanging with him and teaching him things that I think are really important. That's my job for the rest of my life."

Bob and Karen attend workshops that help them cope with living with Alzheimer's. And Bob is on the board of directors of the California Southland Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

"I don't know if you even remember this," Karen says, "but once we were listening to a book on tape, and it talked about the greatest thing you can do if you love somebody was hope that you would be the one that was left — and that you would be the one that could care for your lover.

"You are not alone," she says, "and I'm honored that I'm the one that can care for you. I always will."

"You always have," Bob says. "Thank you."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo. Recorded in partnership with the Alzheimer's Association, California Southland Chapter.



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