GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Nearly 200,000 people 65 and older in Michigan are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

It’s a disease that affects your memory, your sense of time and it can change your personality. Raymond Huckleberry’s mother lives with Alzheimer’s.

“It’s a tragic sunset for anyone to have to face,” he said.

Huckleberry said he was in denial when people told him his mother, Jean, had signs of Alzheimer’s. So, he decided to talk with her.

An undated photo of Raymond Huckleberry and his mother. (Courtesy)
An undated photo of Raymond Huckleberry and his mother. (Courtesy)

“The minute I brought up to mom, we both started crying because she’d been wondering about it too, but scared to say anything. We were both in that spot that we didn’t want to say anything to each other, you know, like saying it would make it real,” Huckleberry explained.

For about five years, she lived at home. Huckleberry would come over and label things around her house and try to help her stay ahead of the disease. He talked constantly with a counselor from the Alzheimer’s Association for help.

“That was a godsend because you just don’t know what to do,” Huckleberry said about his experience with the counselor.

But he said within the past year, he’s fallen behind.

“You simply get outpaced by the disease. There’s no winning against this thing,” he said. “One by one, things go for her and the concept of time doesn’t exist.”

Researchers at Van Andel Institute say Alzheimer’s disease is an aging-related disorder, meaning as people get older, they can have a form of dementia or Alzheimer’s. But they are trying to find a way to slow or even stop the progression of the disease.

“We had proof of concept maybe 20 years ago, and now is the time when we’re really moving those forward,” said Michael Henderson, an assistant professor at the Department of Neurodegenerative Science at Van Andel Institute.

The Henderson Laboratory works to address neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. First they work to understand what leads to neurodegeneration by “probing disrupted cellular pathways, mapping how pathology spreads through the brain and investigating the impact of genetic risk factors on disease progression.”

The researchers also work to create and evaluate potential treatments for these diseases.

Henderson said the research isn’t there just yet, but they are hoping to someday be able to find out if you have Alzheimer’s from a scan of your brain or a small sample of blood.

“I think it’s going to be a major impact, especially as the United States is generally aging, the population is aging. This is going to be a really important area to focus the research so we can have a big impact on society as a whole,” said Henderson.

It’s research that could help Huckleberry and his mom.

“Some options to prevent it or cure it, you know, is really the ultimate goal,” Huckleberry said.

In September, Huckleberry, his mother and family were in East Lansing to watch his oldest son march in the band. That next week, he had to put his mom into an assisted living home. He said it was the hardest thing he had to do because he knows deep down his mom isn’t completely gone.

“The beaming pride you can see in those pictures, it’s still there and that’s what us caregivers have to constantly remember, is even if they don’t act like them, they’re still them,” Huckleberry said.