By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For more than a year, WCCO has been documenting one family’s fight against Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a diagnosis more than 100,000 Minnesota families face.

Paul Quinn,77, is a retired Stillwater doctor dealing with the earliest detectible stage of Alzheimer’s. In our ongoing series, we share how the struggle is now being felt by the people he helped raise and the role reversal for which no one is ever ready.

He grew up an only child, but Paul has spent far more time as the patriarch of his own large family. For nearly a year and a half, we’ve watched them navigate the new waters Paul always feared, with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease.

At Paul’s most recent check-up, doctors take note of lasting cognitive skills. Still, there are signs of decline. He couldn’t say what the date was when asked.

Katie Mack is Paul’s youngest daughter.

“They seem like kind of trivial things, that who really cares,” she said. “But when they add up throughout the day it’s hard to watch because you realize that he has literally lost time.”

Right now, what weighs heavy on the minds of Paul’s family is the possibility of a quick slide in his condition.

“Then it won’t be my dad anymore — that will be hard,” Mack said. “Right now he’s like a kinder, gentler version of my dad.”

Mack keeps a journal to chart all of the changes, and even to record the silver linings along the way.

“My dad is more playful and sweet than he’s ever been. It’s weird,” Katie reads. “Is it at all possible this Alzheimer’s thing will provide gifts? I’m worried we’re in the honeymoon stage, yet at this moment he’s kinder and gentler than ever before.”

In the last couple of years, his family has found it more difficult to have a two-way conversation with Paul. They focus instead on listening to keep him talking, even if it’s a story they’ve already heard.

Paul’s family worries more now about him driving than they did before. They’ve installed a new GPS tracking device on his car just in case.

Peg Quinn is Paul’s wife.

“There is peace of mind knowing that it’s there and that if we need t,o we should be able to find him,” she said.

The kids have tried to divide duties as a way to help their mom pilot the progressive disease.

“I’m sure every adult with aging parents goes through those moments of, ‘I really just want to see you as this strong, capable father. I don’t really want to think about where you’re going to live or how things are going to be for you in the next few years,'” Katie said.

Doctors think, for the most part, Paul’s disease is progressing slowly, allowing a family more time to prepare for more difficult days ahead.

“Little bit scared and a little bit worried all the time because it’s the unknown,” Katie said. “How’s this story going to end?”

The Alzheimer’s Association mans an around the clock hotline to answer questions about caring for memory loss patients — just call (800)-272-3900

To look back at our previous reporting with Paul Quinn, click here.

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