One Man's Race To Outrun Alzheimer's : Shots - Health News Cape Cod journalist Greg O'Brien has always found solace in running, and a diagnosis of Alzheimer's hasn't stopped him. But making it work — for himself and his family — isn't always easy.
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One Man's Race To Outrun Alzheimer's

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One Man's Race To Outrun Alzheimer's

One Man's Race To Outrun Alzheimer's

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we've been following the story of Greg O'Brien. The 64-year-old writer was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease five years ago. Today, he takes us into an important part of his daily routine. O'Brien has always been a runner. He used to run outside around his home on Cape Cod. Then a few years ago, he started to get lost, so now he goes to the gym. But even that is getting more and more difficult. Here's Greg.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREG O'BRIEN: Running to me is essential, and I do it at the end of the day when something called sundowning takes over. And it's what light does to the brain when light changes, and it creates greater confusion. And so that's when I go to run.

My gym shorts? Somewhere - laundry. Fix this stupid light.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

O'BRIEN: You know where my shorts are?

And I used to run six miles a day on the treadmill.

I forget where I put the keys. Where are they?

And I would punish my body because my body - and I'd be punishing my brain because it makes me angry.

Trying to get out of my driveway in this pure ice - I know I shouldn't be driving, but I just hate to give it up. Well, at least my wife knows where I am. After I had an accident a couple of months ago, she found this computer thing, an app on your iPhone that can tell people where you are at all times. So I gave it to my wife and I gave it to my kids.

>>AT&T AUTOMATED VOICE OPERATING SYSTEM: AT&T directory assistance.

O'BRIEN: It's like (laughter) piece by piece stripping yourself away, you know, of identity.

>>AT&T AUTOMATED VOICE OPERATING SYSTEM: Say your city and state like Dallas, Texas, or you can say other services.

O'BRIEN: OK. I know I'm not supposed to be driving, but it's a country road and I'm going to the gym, because that's just what I'm going to do because a day when I can't do it.

>>AT&T AUTOMATED OPERATING SYSTEM: To return to...

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN)

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN)

O'BRIEN: Yeah, I know. I turned the thing off. OK, I can't figure it out - sorry, stupid, I can't figure it out. God, drive me crazy, these computers. Just between us, what I do just to [expletive] them off sometimes is I turn the phone off and then they don't know where I am. So - then I get yelled at. Put it in park.

Alzheimer's can break the body down after it starts to break the brain down because brain signals get all whacked out.

Hey.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi.

O'BRIEN: How you doing?

I haven't had feeling in parts of my hands and feet for several years and was diagnosed recently with acute scoliosis and degeneration of the spine.

Figure out how to work this damn thing again.

So I now go in to the gym daily and I put the treadmill on an incline of 15, which is the highest, and I crank the speed up to about close to 6.2 and I do my miles that way. And it still hurts, but less pain because I'm not pounding. And it tells me that I'm still in this race.

Sure doesn't feel so bad today.

I'm 64 now. When I was 62, I got my mile down to 5 minutes 20 seconds, which is pretty darn good. But I did in rage. I was trying to outrun Alzheimer's.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: Greg O'Brien's memoir is "On Pluto: Inside The Mind of Alzheimer's."

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