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Famed designer shares Alzheimer's diagnosis

6:43 AM, Jun 5, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA, Ga. -- Here's the bad news: the epidemic that is Alzheimer's disease is growing and is now the 6th leading cause of death in the nation.

Here's the good news: we are healthier and living longer.

Bad news again -- Alzheimer's is hunting us down in our old age, affecting 50 percent of everyone 85 and older.

Yet, the research money given for Alzheimer's is paltry compared to what other major diseases like heart disease, breast cancer and AIDS receive.

That's why Dan Carithers' family was willing to share his story -- in the hopes that people will step forward and demand more funding for this disease.

Carithers was named a giant of design, one of the most requested and admired interior designers in the country. His work has graced every conceivable home and design magazine on the market.
Three years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. A year later, he shuttered his design firm.

At 74 years old, he is funny and charming and frank.

He has actually said these words to clients: "Good lord, Helen Keller must have gotten that. It just pops out. There's nothing I can do about it."

He gives an incredibly detailed tour of his home, detailing where he bought every beloved item.
But he can't tell you what he did yesterday.

And it's only when you spend time with Dan that you see what Alzheimer's is doing to his brilliant mind.
His wife Nancy has watched it happen, the creeping progression of the disease that finally overwhelmed her husband's ability as one of the most lauded interior designers in the country.

"That gift he was born with it, there's no question in my mind about it. He's simply sees things in such a beautiful way," she said.
She remembers the day he went to a client's house: "When he went in the front door he could not remember where the staircase was."

Dr. Alan Levey with the Emory Alzheimer's Disease Research Center says right now there is no medicine to slow the progression of Alzheimer's.

He says Dan is a delight to everyone. "He lights up the entire clinic when he comes in. And what we do know is people like Dan who are really really bright, they have enormous reserve. Their brains are so rich that their brains can withstand a lot of injury. His language is really good which makes it seem all the better, right. They can communicate, cover a lot of deficits they have."

But the small moments we take for granted in our own marriages, the talks we have about our days -- our worries. They're gone.

"It's lonely because you've lost the person that you're used to having a conversation with everyday," Nancy said. "'What was your day like? What was going on there?' Our conversations tend to be the weather, or meals or what's the schedule for the day. You repeat a lot of things. Each day is sort of like the first page of a book for him. Each day is beginning over again."

And the blessing and the curse for Dan right now is that he is very aware of what's happening to him.

"He'll say 'You've told me this a 100 times' and I'll say I have not. He'll say yes you have. Because in reality there are a lot of things I say a hundred times," his wife said.

Dan Carithers, a genius of design, will one day no longer remember where he purchased that cherished belonging. But until then, he is enjoying his beautiful world.

"Don't you just love that?" he said as he sat in his back yard of his Buckhead home and listened to the birds tweeting.. "What are you going to do? I don't see any reason to give up life. It's fine. We're here we're talking, life goes on."

WXIA

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