Reporter with Alzheimer's writes about living with it
Greg O'Brien is, in many ways, a typical baby boomer. At 64, he has a job he loves with no thoughts of retiring. Married for 37 years, he and his wife, Mary Catherine, have three children and a satisfying life on Cape Cod. But while most boomers worry about the specter of Alzheimer's, O'Brien lives with its reality every day.
O'Brien, a longtime journalist, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's five years ago. Using his skills as an investigative reporter to "embed" himself in the disease, O'Brien is documenting his battle, giving tremendous insight and a glimmer of hope to a generation that faces what he calls "an unimaginable epidemic."
O'Brien's new book, "On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer's," details his daily fight. The book, listed at $16 and available at bookstores, amazon.com or O'Brien's website, onpluto.org, is far from depressing. "This is not a misery memoir," he says. "I felt as an investigative reporter I had no choice but to write about this."
O'Brien is sharp, funny and incisive and only rarely displays subtle effects of his disease. He sometimes briefly loses his train of thought and rushes to get the words out before he forgets them. "If I don't say it when it's in my mind, it's gone," he says.
He says he fights the disease with faith, humor and strategies. He writes copious notes on his ever-present laptop, and each night sends himself emails with thoughts that would otherwise be lost forever. "It's like when I go to bed at night, someone has taken the files of my mind and spread them out on the floor," he says. "Before I get out of bed I have to put all the files back in my brain."
The disease's toll, however, is evident. "There are times when the brain just shuts down," he says. "There are people I've known all my life who I don't recognize anymore."
O'Brien has also become a powerful advocate for Alzheimer's research, lobbying lawmakers to earmark funds to find a cure, although he knows any cure will come too late for him. "I'm out of the picture on that," he says. "This is for my children and grandchildren, and your children and grandchildren."
His advice for others who find themselves in his position: fight as long as you can. "Have the attitude you're not going to let this thing take you down," he says. "My book is about living with Alzheimer's, not dying with it."