Dementia is a heartbreaking disease at any age, but it is particularly devastating when it occurs in someone who seems too young—when it steals more than just the last few years of a person’s life. Dementia is considered to be early-onset if it occurs in someone under the age of 65.
When Phyllis Feener began experiencing memory issues and having trouble with tasks at work in her early 50s, she thought it was related to menopause. She was surely too young for it to be anything more serious than that. But after she was let go from her job, she underwent some medical tests to find out what the problem was. She—and everyone around her—was shocked when she was given a diagnosis of a subtype of early-onset frontotemporal dementia known as “Logopenic Variant PPA” in 2013. She was just 53 years old.
As Phyllis’s dementia worsened, her husband, Stan, became her full-time caretaker. Today, Phyllis cannot be left alone, as she is unable to perform the simplest tasks, such as dressing herself or pouring a bowl of cereal. She does not remember most of her family members’ names and has a very difficult time communicating.
Inspired by her parents’ love, daughter Kelli Taylor posted a photo on Twitter of her father holding her mother in an armchair. It was captioned: “My parents have been married for 34 years. My mom is in the final stages of young-onset dementia (diagnosed 5 years ago at 53). My dad cares for her full-time. She doesn’t always remember his name but she knows she is safe with him. If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.”
Kelli’s post did not go unnoticed. It received a whopping 616,000 likes, 117,000 retweets, and over 5,000 comments. Overwhelmed by all the support, Kelli posted again the next day: “Wow I’m overwhelmed! Thank you for all the kind words & prayers. If you want to help out my dad, we set up a GoFundMe last year to help him financially. Even if you can’t give, just knowing you’re reading our story & care to see updates means a lot to us.”
Later the same day, Kelli posted: “I’m reading through all the replies to this with tears running down my face. I want to reply to everyone but there’s so much, I don’t even know where to start. My DMs are a little too much for me to handle today but I will try to get to them tomorrow. Thank you all ❤️”
The GoFundMe page had a goal of $13,000 in donated funds, but it quickly reached more than $20,000.
Stan continues to take great care of Phyllis but is now seeking in-home care or adult day care to assist when he isn’t able to be there for her. He has also been looking into long-term care homes for when her condition deteriorates further and he is no longer able to handle her care on his own.
The Alzheimer’s Site wishes the best to Phyllis and her family as they continue to battle this terrifying disease and pursue the best treatments and tools for care available.
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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?