St. Paul Woman Combats Alzheimer's Disease in Her 40s

May 24, 2018 06:02 AM

Tina Casey sits on her living-room couch looking at photos with her husband Paul.

"That's when we got engaged," she says smiling and laughing.


The photo album is full of pictures of a young, vibrant woman.  You would never imagine this to be the face of Alzheimer's.

"I just couldn't make any new memories," Casey said. "I couldn't get anything in my brain.  I couldn't learn anything new."

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Her symptoms were subtle at first.  Early on, she thought it might be stress from her demanding career as a financial consultant.

"I thought I was kind of burned out.  I was starting to repeat my spreadsheets with different colors.  I'd say 'Gosh it seems like I just did this,'" she said.

She changed jobs twice, but her symptoms persisted.

In June of 2017, Dr. Michael Rosenbloom, director of Health Partners Center for Memory and Aging, diagnosed Tina with early-onset Alzheimer's. She was 43.

This was after she'd seen a host of other doctors who'd thought she might have anything from epilepsy to an autoimmune disease.

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"I have the data to prove she has the condition, but it's certainly something that's difficult to believe," Rosenboom said.

About 95 percent of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's are over the age of 65.  But according to the Alzheimer's Association, there are about 200,000 Americans who have early-onset Alzheimer's like.

"She's the first patient I've seen in my practice at this young an age," said Rosenbloom.

Casey has no family history of Alzheimer's.  She's had to give up her career and her car keys.  Casey and her husband Paul have an active teenage daughter. 

"I try and be as positive as I can, but sometimes you get down because it's so frustrating," Casey said.

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"I think the hardest part for me, I struggle with her feeling so isolated at home.  That's my biggest concern. I want to make sure she feels connected," her husband said. 

Research shows that lifestyle choices can reduce the rate of cognitive decline. And so Casey exercises daily, taking walks or doing yoga.  She exercises her brain as well: playing online word games and coloring.

"It's not going to help me to be depressed, because if you're depressed your brain doesn't work well," Casey said.

Instead of swelling on all the memories in their photo book, they are scrambling to make new ones.  They just returned from a trip to Scotland and Ireland, and are traveling to Italy this summer.

"Live your life now.  You never know what's going to happen," Casey said. 

Tina's case of Alzheimer's is considered mild.  Because she's so young, there's not a lot of research or clinical trials for patients her age. Rosenbloom hopes hearing stories like Casey's might change that.


Ellen Galles

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