Most people would have been stressed out by the constantly changing technology, the large territory, and the escalating demands of working as a high-level data center manager. Michael Ellenbogen thrived on the challenges.
“I didn’t feel the stress; I loved constantly learning and I became the go-to-problem solving person in my organization,” he says.
By his mid-thirties, Michael had a wonderful wife and daughter, a nice house, a boat, and a rewarding and stimulating career.
Then, at age 39, he realized that something was wrong. He’d forget meetings, dashing in minutes late, claiming a crisis. He’d look at an employee and blank on her name. When people threw around familiar industry acronyms, Michael couldn’t remember what the letters stood for.
“Just part of everyday stress,” his colleagues assured him, when he mentioned these lapses.
But the aberrations were disturbing and Michael went to his doctor. “Stressed,” his doctor said.
Through the next years, Michael fervently sought answers but received only platitudes.
In 2003, when he was 45-years-old, he was terminated. He applied for another job, a high-level manager’s position. But the interviewer asked him a math question and Michael didn’t know the answer.
“I’d done budgets of millions but I couldn’t come up with the number,” Michael says. “Luckily, an old boss gave me a chance at a consulting job.”
Michael studiously took notes, trying to learn the job. He worked diligently, putting in grueling hours, but he wasn’t meeting his quota. And it was exhausting, trying to hide his problems from those working with him.
Again, he sought medical information. Finally after an MRI, a PET scan, and batteries of tests, Michael, then age 49, was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment/Alzheimer’s Disease.
“That moment changed my life,” Michael said.
Having a diagnosis brought some relief. But when he learned more about Alzheimer’s, he was initially devastated, understanding there was no cure. His natural resilience soon surfaced and he embraced the philosophy, “Don’t worry about something you can’t change.”
So often, the disease isolates people, but Michael is determined to stay active, engaged, and make a difference.
“People living with dementia need a purpose,” he says.
Michael’s purpose is strong and clear: he works long days, educating, connecting, and advocating. He serves on five advisory boards and regularly speaks out on radio and television. He’s testified in front of Congress and communicated with both Congress and the Senate. He’s working with AARP and helping a hospital become dementia-friendly.
“Many in our society think Alzheimer’s is a part of normal aging. But it’s a disease, not the norm and we need to treat dementia as fairly as we treat other diseases,” Michael says. “NIH contributes 18.7% to cancer, 9.9% to HIV and only 1.5% to Alzheimer’s. This is an injustice.”
What the business world lost, those living with dementia have gained. Michael is a hard-hitting, vocal, and determined, strategist, dedicated to improving the lives of those living with dementia. ###
How can you help Michael and others living with dementia?
Michael advises: “Mail a letter to senators and congressman, sharing the story of someone who has dementia, so they can understand the devastation factor behind this disease.”
Visit Michael’s website: www.MichaelEllenbogenMovement.com
Read his book: From the Corner Office to Alzheimer’s
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.