Both of Arnie Beresh’s parents suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. His father, who lived to the age of 95, was his wife’s primary caregiver.
“Not because he had to, but because of his devotion to her,” Arnie says.
Today, Arnie’s wife, Michele, is showing him the same devotion.
Arnie earned his Doctorate of Podiatric Medicine degree from Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine. In 1984, he moved to Hampton Roads to practice.
“Two dogs [Madison and Alf], two cats [Conor and Niko], two people,” Michele says of their family who live in Newport News today.
A few years ago, Arnie began noticing differences in himself.
“I used to go to meetings and follow everything,” he says. “Eventually, I hated going to them.”
He no longer wanted to try new technology or procedures. His ability to multitask declined, making it a challenge to function professionally.
“Nobody else really noticed anything was wrong,” Arnie says. “Finally, I told Michele, I’m not functioning the way I need to be.”
After Arnie’s primary care doctor ascribed his concerns to normal aging, Michele advocated for further testing. They saw a neuropsychologist, and two weeks later, Arnie was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, with early onset dementia. He was 61 years old.
As a podiatric physician and surgeon, Arnie had to retire immediately as his executive function (high-level cognitive skills that coordinate and control all other cognitive abilities) was compromised. He left his practice in August 2015. Michele stayed until December to transition the new physicians who purchased the practice.
Arnie was home alone, cleaning closets, cooking dinner, doing anything he could to keep busy. He hated it.
When she retired, Michele had a new purpose. “My job is to be in charge of fun,” Michele says. “I want to be sure we make every moment count.”
Arnie and Michele share a calendar and keep track of each other with the help of their cell phones’ GPS.
“At this point in my life, technology is a world changer,” Arnie says. “If I had not had technology experience before, it would be a nightmare.”
He takes medication prescribed for Alzheimer’s sufferers and is working with a behavioral neurologist, who specializes in treating patients with brain dysfunction. He advised Arnie to slow down and think everything through before doing it.
Exercise is recommended for Alzheimer’s patients to keep their minds and bodies active. But as the disease progresses, Arnie is finding it more difficult to stay active.
Arnie had bypass surgery in June. He does kickboxing regularly to help with concentration, mental awareness and for social interaction.
“I used to blow through a novel and remember the characters and back stories,” he explains, “Now, if I read 15 pages and don’t go back right away, I may as well start over.”
Arnie and Michele share a love of animation art.
“We went to Art-Cade Gallery Williamsburg years ago to purchase animation art,” Michele says. “We saw these Dr. Seuss guys and fell in love.”
They bought their first Seuss sculpture from his “Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy” and now own several of these pieces.
Today, being free to do what they wish is better for the two of them.
“Retiring took a lot of stress off me,” Arnie says. “Running a practice was extremely stressful for both of us, but very gratifying.” He still misses his patients and staff.
Arnie and Michele enjoy traveling with friends. They particularly like Arizona and visiting family in Michigan.
“We have friends who, instead of disappearing, gather toward us. We feel blessed,” Michele says.
When Arnie was ready to share his story, the couple was determined to do the most they could with it.
“If he’s strong enough to talk about it, then I need to be strong enough to step up and see what else we can do to help others,” Michele says.