Retired derm lives with Alzheimer's, bares his soul

September 1, 2006

For retired dermatologist Donald Hayen, M.D., writing has been a constant companion.

For retired dermatologist Donald Hayen, M.D., writing has been a constant companion.

A decade into retirement, Dr. Hayen, 62, is, again, baring his soul. This time, he reveals his daily struggles with Alzheimer's disease on a blog at http://www.TheTripOver.com/. As before, Dr. Hayen's experience is opening the door of communication for others stricken with the disease, as well as those who care for them.

"That is what writing is: Baring your soul," he says. "I have the feeling that if I've learned something from what life has handed me, I should share that to help others."

A slow slide

Diagnosed in April 2005, Dr. Hayen says he did not know there was anything wrong, but his wife and daughter thought something was amiss.

"I was having little episodes of forgetfulness that I just passed off as what everybody has," he says. "I still have those. My wife has them, also, and sometimes I joke with her and say, 'Who has the Alzheimer's here?'"

Dr. Hayen's daughter was a single mother with financial problems when she and her two teenagers moved in with the Hayens. Dr. Hayen remembers having struggles with his grandsons that resulted in uncharacteristic bursts of anger.

His wife and daughter arranged for a private consultation with Dr. Hayen's internist, who later questioned him about the behavior during an office visit.

"He said that I should have a brain scan, though he did not let on about what he was thinking," Dr. Hayen says.

The subsequent brain scan was "suspicious" and a follow-up PET scan indicated there were gummy amyloid deposits on the frontal lobe of Dr. Hayen's brain.

The diagnosis: a very early case of Alzheimer's disease.

"A year later, I can still drive, I am still writing, I am still functioning, and I think reasonably well," he says.

Episodes of forgetfulness

Still, Dr. Hayen admits that frightening episodes sometimes occur.

"They do not happen very often, but I will be driving down a familiar street and suddenly realize that I do not remember where I am or where I am going. It is just fleeting, but panicky before it all comes back," he says. "Otherwise, I lose my keys; I lose my glasses; I forget names. But I do not think it is any more than most people at my age."

Dr. Hayen is on a number of medications, some of them experimental, such as ibuprofen, which is thought to be of some help in early Alzheimer's.

A baseline psychological test last August indicated he had minor memory loss, affecting more his ability to listen to words than to read them. He is awaiting results of a second battery of tests he took this August.