Keeping Busy to Ward Off Alzheimer's Disease

But Jim Cook's memory problems keep creeping up on him.

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Unplanned retirement - Jim Cook

Jim Cook, 57, of Lincoln, Neb., had a 28-year Air Force career and then worked as a guest lecturer for the University of Nebraska. But little by little, important memories that he needed to do his job started to elude him. "My personal stigmatization was not being able to remember people's names. Fifteen minutes into the conversation, I would forget someone's name," he says. "I was less able to manage the small details that were so fundamentally crucial to my being able to do the work."

Cook's job performance reviews began to steadily decline. Eventually, "I was kind of forced into retirement three years ago," Cook says. "At the time, I thought it was just a matter of office politics. A lot of us lose our jobs." But then came the medical diagnosis: Alzheimer's disease.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 10 million American baby boomers will develop the disease, and more than 70 percent of these people will live at home and be cared for by family and friends. Cook and his wife, Gwendolyn, are both supported by her salary until he becomes eligible for his military pension at age 60. Now he keeps busy as an actor, writer, and arts educator in order to slow the progression of the disease. "Being very active and having a lot of activities is a cause of my high functionality, but I have a significant decline in my brain that would say otherwise," Cook says. "My family, my wife especially, they know the difference."

This blog post is part of an ongoing series of stories about people who retired while they were making other plans. If you'd like the story of your unplanned retirement story featured in an upcoming post, please write me at retire@usnews.com and include your phone number. Or you can discuss your story in the comments section.