Lonni Schicker stopped in her tracks. She had just left the library on the Minnesota college campus where she taught health administration and was headed back to her office. But she couldn’t remember where it was.
“My office was in the next building, but I walked almost the entire campus and I finally called my son,” she says. He told her which building it was in; she followed signs to get there.
The incident was even more worrisome in light of what had happened the previous week. Schicker was giving a speech out of town and, right in the middle of it, her mind went blank. “The words were coming out of my mouth and then all of a sudden, nothing,” she says. She forgot not only the content of her talk, but where she was.
Doctors diagnosed Schicker in July 2014 with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI. She was 59 years old. The diagnosis was later upgraded to vascular dementia.
Like many faced with dementia, Schicker was forced to process what would inevitably be major changes in her life. She quit her university job that fall. She moved back to her hometown to live with her son. When she drives, she uses navigation – even when going to the grocery store.
At the same time, Schicker didn’t stop living her life. On the contrary, she has remained active and busy as an advocate for others with the disease. She was one of 10 Americans appointed last year to the national Early-Stage Advisory Group of the Alzheimer’s Association. The group, which consists of members from across the country, works to raise awareness of early-stage Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and advocates for more research and support programs, among other things.
“I could see that there was clearly a stigma attached to having dementia and that nobody wants to believe that you have it, Schicker says. “I want people to understand that there are stages. That because someone has dementia doesn’t mean that they are completely confused or unable to function.”