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August 21, 2014

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As Alzheimer’s ravages father’s mind, son takes off on cross-country journey in support

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Courtesy of Jesse Ables

Jesse Ables, right, posed with his friend, Devin Siegmund, in Santa Monica, Calif., on Sunday afternoon before they began the first leg of their journey across the United States. Jesse Ables is walking to raise awareness for early-onset Alzheimer’s, a disease his father was diagnosed with at age 58.

Las Vegas resident Jesse Ables is taking steps on his own to raise awareness about a disease ravaging his father’s memory.

Thousands of steps, in fact.

With a 50-pound bag in tow, the 22-year-old has set out to trace a route across the country, speaking to anyone who will listen about early-onset Alzheimer’s.

It’s a personal mission, borne out of frustration for what his family has endured in the months that followed the diagnosis of his 58-year-old father, James Ables.

“It’s one of those things you can’t really process,” Ables said about the diagnosis a year ago that his father had Alzheimer’s. “You know it will be difficult.”

Early symptoms didn’t immediately trigger concern. Ables’ family — which includes his mother, older brother and twin brother — chalked up his dad’s redundant questions to a symptom of his working the graveyard shift at the Flamingo.

He lost his job a short time later, Ables said. The symptoms continued, then came the diagnosis: early-onset Alzheimer’s, confirmed by doctors at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

“My family didn’t have health insurance,” Ables said. “Financially, they were not doing well.”

The diagnosis meant James Ables no longer qualified for unemployment, setting in motion a waiting period to receive disability payments through Social Security, Ables said.

“I wanted to try to bring some attention to that,” Ables said, referring to what he called “shortcomings of our health care.”

Early-onset Alzheimer’s affects nearly 4 percent of the 5.4 million Americans with the memory-loss disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The organization estimates more than 200,000 people — many in their 40s and 50s — have early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Ables said his mother had been looking for a job, but her husband’s health needs made that difficult.

“She can’t leave him alone that much longer,” he said. “She’s in a spot where she’s half looking for a job and half staying home with my dad.”

After reading a book about a cross-country journey, Ables said it struck him as a good way to educate more people about the early-onset form of the disease.

He and a friend started Sunday in Santa Monica, Calif., walking and talking to people along the roughly 20 miles to North Hollywood. Their end goal is St. Simons, Ga. Ables figures it will take him about five months to traverse the country.

So far, several strangers they’ve met have contacted his parents to offer support, Ables said.

“They are happy to know there are other people out there who do care,” he said.

Ables said funds donated through his website will go toward financially supporting his parents.

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