Mike Belleville was a Senior Telecommunications Technician at Verizon for 18 years. He was a team leader problem solving some of the greatest challenges facing the system: September 11, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, international roll-outs, government projects.
Today, Mike is a volunteer and advocate at the Alzheimer’s Association, MA/NH Chapter. He takes on public policy initiatives, peer-to-peer counseling, public speaking, fundraising, leading a Walk to End Alzheimer’s team, and consulting on mild Alzheimer’s challenges.
At 54, he’s already been living with Alzheimer’s disease for at least two years. He suspects it may have been much longer—even before the first troubling signs appeared. But, he also believes that his Alzheimer’s might have gone undetected for longer if his job did not require him to be at the top of his game. Things began to change, slowly at first. Mike, always the first to arrive at meetings, was forgetting meetings altogether. The people he had trained now became his source of information. For a while, his colleagues joked that Mike was getting old.
“I’d been known as the guy to get things done. I always got things done right, and quickly. I could work on anything.”
As the disease symptoms increased, his life became smaller. His manager was not assigning him projects. He lost interest in activities that had been a mainstay – the town school committee where he had served for five years, community activities, and his passion for photography. With the downsizing of his life, came downsizing their home. Mike and his wife Cheryl, with one of their three children still at home, relocated to a condo in a rambling converted brick mill building. Mike was depressed and suffering bouts of anger. Visits to the doctor and medication helped with depression, but the once go-to happy guy could not understand his anger.
“It became a process of elimination, with doctors trying to find causes and not finding anything,” says Mike. “I had a ton of bloodwork, three spinal taps, two MRIs and eventually a PET scan.” The last tests were administered at Massachusetts General Hospital, where neurologists diagnosed abnormalities, dementia and neuro-degenerative disease. At just 52, Mike had Alzheimer’s.
And then, in the way that most people do these days, Cheryl took to the internet and found the Alzheimer’s Association. Her search coincided with the launch of a new program, the Power + Purpose program for people with mild Alzheimer’s. She made the call that led them to his new calling in life. They began with a support group and made use of the free consultation service at the Association.
“I could have just rolled over, given up. But the Power + Purpose program reminded me that I can still do things. I want to do things. I don’t know when that will change.”
A key component of the Power + Purpose program is the emphasis on getting involved. Mike needed little encouragement. Within months, he began saying yes to a variety of activities. He’s done media interviews about living with the disease, one even for the national Human Resources magazine that included an interview at his now former employer, Verizon. The more he said “yes,” the more he began to see a path through the worst of his symptoms.
“I never want to hide. There is so much stigma with this disease. I want people to know about it.”
Until there is a cure, every action we take is aimed at helping people to live with the disease and moving research towards effective treatments. We encourage you to learn more about our ongoing and new programs by visiting us at alz.org/MANH.
About the Alzheimer’s Association, Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization providing Alzheimer care, support and research. More than 5 million people nationwide have Alzheimer’s—142,000 of them live in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the area we serve. The Alzheimer’s Association’s outreach and support has increased each year to meet the needs of those living with the challenge of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. In 2015, we provided:
To donate to the Alzheimer's Association, MA/NH chapter, follow the link provided and click on Add to My Donation Basket, or use the code 109857 on your paper pledge form.