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Living Each Day: Onalaska couple fighting Alzheimer’s disease together

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ONALASKA, Wis. (WXOW) - The sounds of bowling filled Coulee Golf Bowl on a Thursday afternoon.

Chuck and Sharon Zimmer are playing what looks like a typical game of bowling, but it’s much more than that.

Over three years ago, Chuck was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 60.

"That was a gut-wrencher," said Sharon. "I’m not going to lie. It hurt because we were in the prime of our life of retirement age.” 

According to the Alzheimer's Association Wisconsin Chapter, around 5% of all Alzheimer's cases in the United States are like Chuck’s. He’s considered early-onset which is someone diagnosed before the age of 65.

As the disease has progressed, Chuck has started to lose his ability to articulate his words and sometimes memories. Yet, he’s still able to participate in different interests.

"Every day, I go to the YMCA," said Chuck. "Do something like that. If it’s nice, I play golf. You know we do a lot of stuff.”

Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Justin Otis of Gundersen Health System says people like Chuck need to keep doing a variety of activities like bowling to continue stimulating their brain.

"It’s really important to maintain that diversity of activity,' said Dr. Otis. "Staying involved, stay active and busy. My experience has been, those folks who don’t, struggle a lot more."

Chuck and Sharon traveling. (Courtesy/Sharon Zimmer)

Even while working a full-time job, Sharon is still able to help Chuck get out and stay active, but it’s not always easy.

"Some days, I’m really stressed," said Sharon. "Some days, I’m really, really sad. Some days, I’m like, "Oh my god!" I don’t know if I can do this.”

Yet, Sharon continues to roll with it. The pandemic has provided new challenges like loss of social interaction and canceled classes for those living with Alzheimer's disease. These closures can cause a quicker decline in Alzheimer's cases.

"Given the current situation we’re in with the COVID-19 pandemic, it's been more difficult than ever,” said Dr. Otis.

Chuck and Sharon volunteering for Hunger Task Force. (Courtesy/Sharon Zimmer)

Since his diagnosis, the Zimmer’s have spent time volunteering, traveling, exploring, and enjoying life, not ready to let the disease take Chuck.

"We know the results," said Sharon. "We know what is going to happen. We know there is no cure for it. It’s a part of life but I’m not going to let it consume us.”

The appetite for activity is only growing as Sharon and Chuck gear up for more adventures in the near future and hopes of visiting more with their children and grandchildren.

Chuck and Sharon taking a selfie out on their adventures. (Courtesy/Sharon Zimmer)

“I think we’ll have a good time. I hope we do,” laughed Chuck.

If you are taking care of someone with Alzheimer's disease or looking to learn more, visit the La Crosse County Aging and Disability website here.

For more research, visit https://www.alz.org/research

To participate in the upcoming, free Alzheimer's Foundation of America Virtual Conference on March 16, register and sign up at https://alzfdn.org/tour/.

Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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