MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS5) - Alzheimer's can be a scary diagnosis.

There's no cure and no way to tell how fast it will progress. 

A lot of times, that fear can keep people who know something's wrong from getting help.

A Mesa couple refused to ignore the symptoms. They say it has opened up new options for treatment and brought them more quality time together.

Next month Kathy and Jean Norris-Wilhelm will celebrate their 22nd anniversary. They say they are celebrating life every day and getting used to their new normal.

[SLIDESHOW: Kathy and Jean]

"She couldn't find her shoes; she couldn't find her cellphone. 'Where are my glasses?' We did a lot of retracing," Kathy said.

"It was like something was wrong. I knew something was wrong," Jean admits.

When simple forgetfulness morphed into more frequent confusion, Jean had to retire, after nearly 20 years teaching in Chandler.

Jean teaching

"What was frustrating was because she was so young, no one was really looking at an Alzheimer's diagnosis," Kathy said.

Kathy says it took two MRIs, two CAT scans, a neuro- psych evaluation, a PET scan, and two years to properly diagnose Jean with early onset Alzheimer's disease at only 55 years old.

Fewer than 200,000 people get this diagnosis before age 65.

"We just jumped right in; we didn't run away," Kathy said.

Their only fear was the unknown.

kathy & jean smiles.3.JPG

This, they say, they can handle!

"Before, I was hiding. I couldn't do it. I didn't know what to do," Jean said.

"Now, it's like, it is what it is, and I'm never scared. I'm not scared of anything," Jean said.

Knowing what they're up against means they can take charge enrolling in clinical trials, and making simple lifestyle and diet changes, to try to help minimize symptoms.

The couple hopes to change the face of this disease and erase the stigma so others will learn and embrace early detection. They also hope others will be empowered to not waste a moment and enjoy every minute of every day.


Jean is all smiles, turning the soil in their backyard garden.

"See how quiet it is?" she asks.

"That's what it is for me."

"Your therapy?" Kathy asks.

"Yeah, that's what I love," Jean said.

"By sharing our story, we have just been struck with waves of support and waves of knowledge and information that we would never have had, had we just stayed in a bubble or just crawled under a rug," Kathy said.

Jean and Kathy will be out at the annual Walk to End Alzheimer's at Wesley Bolin Plaza in downtown Phoenix Saturday, Nov. 3.

It's an easy 2-mile route for the whole family.

Registration starts at 7:30 a.m., with the opening ceremony at 9 a.m.

Kathy and Jean at walk

An estimated 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's. That's roughly one new diagnosis every 65 seconds.

Click here for all you need to know to donate or participate in the 2018 walk or to find more resources and family support for early detection.

Nicole Crites anchors 3TV's Good Evening Arizona weekdays alongside Brandon Lee. Nicole also digs deep into issues affecting Arizonans.  You'll see her reports on 3TV News at 9 p.m.

Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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