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When a Mind Begins to Disappear: A Young Family's Journey to the Dark Side
Date:4/11/2008

'I thought Alzheimer's, I thought gray hair,' says Chicago father of 3 who has early-onset version of disease.

FRIDAY, April 11 (HealthDay News) -- Construction foreman Jim Mueller was in his early 30s when his memory started to go. He'd forget things: his schedule, his equipment, where he was, and where he was going. Sometimes even the names of his daughters and his wife. But nothing prepared the Mueller family for the doctor's verdict.

"When they said Jim had Alzheimer's, I was in shock," Jim's wife, Michelle, quietly recalls. "I mean, I had heard of Alzheimer's because of President Reagan. And I had worked at one time when I was younger to care for someone with Alzheimer's (but) I thought that was for people when they got older. And I really didn't believe it."

Jim Mueller, now 39, is, in fact, just one of an estimated 500,000 Americans currently battling the daily ravages of early-onset Alzheimer's (sometimes called young-onset Alzheimer's) -- a form of the incurable and devastating neurodegenerative disease that strikes those in their mid-30s to mid-60s.

For the Mueller family, the unexpected havoc wrought by Jim's Alzheimer's diagnosis at the age of 36 has turned every facet of their lives completely upside down.

"It was a shock to me, too," Jim confirms. "I thought Alzheimer's, I thought gray hair. And we were just starting to get our feet wet. Just starting our family. Now we've lost everything."

There was nothing in Jim's past to suggest the rough times to come.

Back in 1992, the 23-year-old Illinois army reservist was fresh-faced and 100 percent healthy. He met Michelle -- also an Illinois reservist -- while both were attending a military carpentry school in Fort McCoy, Wisc. After marrying, the two settled down in Villa Park, a quiet suburb of 23,000 people just west of Chicago, where the Mueller brood soon grew.

A stay-at-home mom, Michelle took care of their th
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