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A Minister Reflects on Her Life with Alzheimer's

Cynthia Huling Hummel was 49 years old when she noticed the first changes. She was a Presbyterian minister working on her doctorate and she began to have difficulty recalling the names and faces of her parishioners, or keeping track of her meetings.

Eight years later in 2011, as her symptoms progressed, Cynthia was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.

"It wasn't a huge surprise," she says. Her mother and uncle both died with Alzheimer's disease, and her grandmother had some form of dementia. "But it was a sadness. And I made the decision at that time to leave full time ministry because I wasn't able... to be an effective pastor."

After leaving the ministry, she embarked on a journey to understand her diagnosis. "I saw an ad for an eight-week class with the Alzheimer's Association [called] Understanding Alzheimer's," she says, "and I drove to that class, and I sat in the parking lot, and I cried. It just felt so unfair, you know. It just felt like the rug had been pulled out. I was just so young, and this was not how my life was supposed to go."

Today, Cynthia is an author and artist whose work explores the experience of living with Alzheimer's, and she volunteers her time for medical research into the disease.

The cognitive impairment caused by Alzheimer's progresses slowly, and following her diagnosis Cynthia says she adjusted her habits as well as her mindset to account for her occasional memory loss. "In the past, I was the helper who went out and helped other people and did things. It was a little bit humbling, and it took me a while to get to the point where I had to ask for help for certain things."

Cynthia is mindful that, some day, she will need greater help from a caregiver, and she has made plans with friends and family for when that time comes. On this episode of Twenty-Four Seven: A Podcast About Caregiving, Cynthia shares her insights into the care she hopes to receive and her advice for others with Alzheimer's Disease.