The movie, “Still Alice,” about a linguistics professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, began its Charlotte run Friday, and Sharon Biondo, for one, is glad for the attention being paid to the disease that is taking her husband away, day by day.
Dave Biondo was only 54 when, in the summer of 2010, his wife noticed he was having trouble using his computer. This was unusual because Dave “lived on the computer” as a project manager for Vanguard, where he helped oversee the company website.
Periodically he “did what I call zoning out,” Sharon recalled. “Just staring ahead and not hearing what I said. He didn’t remember it, and he didn’t believe me.” But then it happened at work, when he was waiting to give a presentation but failed to respond when colleagues turned to him to begin.
Sharon said it was difficult to get a diagnosis. Because Dave was younger than most Alzheimer’s patients and working in a demanding job, many doctors attributed his symptoms to stress, she said. But after undergoing many tests, Dave’s doctors at Duke University Medical Center diagnosed him with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2011. His condition was already so severe that he was advised to stop working and driving immediately.
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Subsequently, Sharon quit her job as a real estate agent to care for Dave, whose illness progressed quickly. “He’s in the late stages now,” she said. “He can look right at my face and say, ‘Where’s my wife?’ But when I ask, ‘What’s your wife’s name?’ he’ll say Sharon. … He knows he’s with a person he can trust … He can sing songs from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s verbatim but could not tell you whether he went to the bathroom five minutes ago.”
During the day, Sharon takes Dave to The Ivey Memory Wellness Day Center, where he gets art, music and recreational therapy. When he hears music, he’s often the first to sing or get up to dance. “He gets a lot of stimulation and socialization that he’s not going to get while he’s at home,” Sharon said.
In recent weeks, Sharon has hired a nurse to watch her husband four nights a week so she can rest. “I’m not even looking at nursing homes. It’s my goal to keep him at home.”
Sharon, now 55, is thankful that Dave bought long-term-care insurance a year and a half before his diagnosis. She was surprised to learn that Medicare doesn’t cover expenses such as in-home care. She hopes others learn from her experience and from the “Still Alice” movie.
“Before Dave developed the disease, I didn’t know how to spell Alzheimer’s and didn’t know it was so prevalent and didn’t know you could get the disease in your 30s, 40s and 50s,” Sharon said. “The earlier you get a diagnosis, the better off you’re going to be.”