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How the Doolittles are battling Alzheimer’s and hoping to change the world one step at a time

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At only 59, Bella Dolittle routine check-up threw her a curveball in the form of Alzheimer’s, but turns out with the help of her husband Will she has been chronicling her battle with the disease.

Husband and wife share the story of their struggle through podcasts after the wife — Bella Doolittle — had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at merely 59. What sets the couple apart is their steadfast belief in one another and them embracing Bella’s new and changing personality by raising awareness of how the quality of life changes when battling Alzheimer’s.

Bella, a cheerful soul, committed wife, mother of four, college coordinator and human and animal rights activist, found it shattering to believe that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had been predicted with only eight more years to live. She found it so unbelievable that she says, «‘I asked him to check me to see if I had a tumor instead. He said, «no, you absolutely have Alzheimer’s.» After all, she was only 59 when she started forgetting things and had gone to the doctor merely for a routine check-up. This February will mark a year since her initial diagnosis.

«I’m flabbergasted by the short amount of time they’ve given me,» she says. Bella struggles to place her past incidents in time and retraces her thoughts back to when the doctor informed her of her disease and says, «How long ago was it, two years?’ she asks. «No, it was February of 2017,» Will corrects her. Because Bella loses track of time, Will keeps a close count of the fleeting and yet treasured years they have together.

Bella had worked all her life, letting no one or nothing slow her down — until in came Alzheimer’s forcing her to take a back seat in almost everything she did. It was her husband, Will, a newspaper columnist at the Glens Falls Post Star in New York, who came up with the brainwave of documenting the subtle changes that came in their lives due to the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Bella, still strong in her spirit of wanting to make a difference agreed to work on the project even though her disease-free self would earlier not have been okay with opening her private life up for thousands to share in. The disease had begun to change her personality and with it their relationship. With the making of this decision, The Alzheimer’s Chronicles was born publishing its debut podcast in November later that year.

Unlike most other people, who would’ve taken to the darkness and given up on most activities, Bella refused to be ashamed of her changing identity and began doing everything to embrace it. She says, «Society tends to put pressure on you [if] you’re not perfect, but I’m not embarrassed that I have Alzheimer’s. I’m upset because I don’t want to die and leave my husband and my children and my animals, but I’m not embarrassed.»

She has been heard repeating the above statement quite a few times maybe because she’s emphasizing and accepting her fast-changing identity every so often or maybe because she forgets that she has already projected the same thought.

Together the couple is giving all that it takes to make the rest of Bella’s life rewarding in every possible way. «I miss the parts of Bella that are vanishing, but on the other hand, there’s an essential-ness to our relationship now, which is nice. There’s not a lot of extraneous stuff, just this kind of connection that we have,» Will says and Bella chimes in saying, «Isn’t that sweet? he’s so wonderful to me. It’s true, too, what he’s saying.»

Will is not the only support Bella has, since the start of the podcast, she has been receiving an unexpected and grand number of people offering their support.

Bella who has always kept herself busy doesn’t feel like she is just shy of 60. Her animated-self jokes, «‘I don’t have any wrinkles yet!» When the couple is not seen working with their children, they are seen taking care of their dog and rabbit.
Together the family with two biological children, Ginny and Travis, now in their 30s, as well as two adopted daughters, Zoe and Tam both 21 are quite a full house that the parents need to tend to. Unlike most other families, however, Bella has been the one who has been paying the pills. Not only that, the activist side of herself has made her organize and march in protests against domestic violence, raise AIDS awareness and stand up for women’s rights. It was only a month ago when her boss forced her into retirement.

«I wouldn’t have done it if I’d had a choice, but they didn’t want a crazy person in the office,» Bella says admitting that her «perspective is not necessarily reliable anymore.» Her supervisor is said to have pressured her into retiring by bringing up the topic often since she was informed of her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s.

«I don’t feel the change. I know that I’m supposed to, and I am forgetful, no doubt about that, and I’m a little knuckle-headed, but people tell me I’m different. I have to ask if I said something twice, it’s funny, it’s like your blinded to it,’ Bella says.

She learns more of the changes in her behavior from Will, who says, «Our relationship has changed, and I think that’s inevitable if a spouse is diagnosed with a disease that is, at some point or other, going to be fatal.» However, he confesses saying, «It’s a big change, but it’s not necessarily all bad» after being reminded of one particularly inspiring email he received from her supporters which referred to Mizuta Masahide’s haiku — «Barn’s burnt down — now I can see the moon.»

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In regards to the changes he perceives in Bella, he says, «The essence of Bella is still there, the essence of our relationship is still there, but it differs in how we interact day-to-day…We’ve always been a real partnership, and Bella’s been the leader of that partnership.» The finances in the family have become tight — since Bella’s retirement forcing Will to take on more responsibility. «I was a good helper, but now I’ve got to take over and be the one to make sure things don’t fall apart,» Will realizes.

Recounting for some of the better changes that the disease has resulted in, Bella exclaims saying, «I used to be fairly bossy and demanding and I wanted everything to be the exact perfect way, and I just don’t have that desire anymore…I didn’t decide it, I just stopped caring about having everything perfect, which is kind of a big deal because I was really an A-type personality. But now, I’m friendly and nothing bothers me, it’s pretty odd.» Will testifies to the change saying that Bella indeed was changing faster than they could control and that this change for the better, «has become more pronounced over the last year.»

What is more baffling about Bella’s perspective of the disease is that in most other patient’s Alzheimer’s is seen having a negative effect in regards to personality changes. The patient becomes more irritable and aggressive — very unlike Bella’s changes in character. Bella explains herself saying, «I’ve come to kind of accept my diagnosis since there is nothing else I can do…so I guess I’ll just embrace the person I’m becoming.»

The change in the attitude of the family could also have a role to play in the pleasant change in Bella’s personality. The couple is planning a trip to Scotland over their summer vacation to allow Bella to «make a connection with the old country.»

Their children have also changed their behavior with their mother — where the oldest daughter, Ginny, keeps a check on the couple regularly. «Our two younger daughters have changed in more subtle ways, they are more attentive and sweeter,» Will says. «And I can get away with things I didn’t used to,» Bella jokes continuing, «I ate the whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s that was meant to be saved for my daughter, and she didn’t even get mad at me.»

All in all, «Bella neither looks nor sounds like what one would expect of a woman blighted by Alzheimer’s.» Bella is now investing all her time and energy into fighting for animal rights — a cause close to her heart. This is not to mention her work for The Alzheimer Chronicles through which she is fulfilling her desire to spread awareness of how to tackle Alzheimer’s

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