Feb. 25, 2016 -- Alzheimer's disease hit the Schafferman siblings hard. Audrey was the first. She was diagnosed at age 65, about 3 years before her younger brother Gene. Audrey died in 2007. Gene would follow 5 years later.
Gene’s daughter, Donna Shore, recalls that the disease looked a lot different in her father than it did in her aunt.
“It seemed like Aunt Audrey went a lot faster than my father did,” says Shore, 58, of Littlestown, PA. She took care of Gene. He was so spry and vibrant that he was able to continue his favorite hobby -- dancing -- until just a year before his death. The nursing home staff called him “Gene, Gene, the Dancing Machine.”
Shore is especially grateful that her dad never forgot who she was, calling her by her nickname, Sparky, right up until his death.
Audrey’s loss, by contrast, seemed crueler. The unfailingly kind and loving mother and grandmother became paranoid. She accused her daughters of stealing her glasses and her social security checks -- when she could remember who her children were.
“I would have to go to the bathroom and cry, because I wasn’t used to my mother talking to me that way,” says Robin Broyles, 62, of Baltimore, MD.
When Audrey began sneaking out of the house and started confusing a closet for the bathroom, the family made the wrenching decision to put her in a nursing home. She died 18 months later.
Though the experience of the disease is highly individual, researchers think what happened in the Schafferman family may be part of a larger pattern, one that puts women in the epicenter of the Alzheimer's epidemic.
Studies show that by age 65, women have about twice the risk of getting the condition. About 1 in 6 women will get Alzheimer's after age 65, compared to about 1 in 11 men. About two-thirds of people in the U.S. with the disease are women.
Not only are women more likely to get Alzheimer's than men, but recent studies suggest the disease does its work more swiftly in women, causing them to decline faster -- and farther -- than men do, at least in the beginning.