OREGON (WTVG) - According to the Alzheimer's Association, someone in the United States develops the disease every 65 seconds. There are nearly six million Americans living with it right now, and that number is expected to more than double by the year 2050.
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An Oregon man is one of thousands of people in our region with the disease. His son has become his caregiver, and their story has captured hearts all over the world.
At the age of 28, Ruben Gonzalez went from a carefree young man to his father's caregiver. His story is a powerful example of the importance of family, love and unlocking the mysteries of Alzheimer's disease.
Ruben says his life isn't quite what he imagined it would be, "Let's be honest. I am human and it's hard. You don't want to accept what's happening but it's not a bad dream, it's reality."
A visit to the doctor in 2016 changed everything for Ruben and his father Jose, "A lot of people don;t know what you're going through because you don;t want to show it."
Ruben says at just 60 years old, Jose was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, "In the span of just 30 months, my dad went from driving a car to not being able to brush his teeth. It is excruciating to watch that happen"
As things began to deteriorate, Jose moved in with Ruben, "It's been a big adjustment. It's crazy to think about how much responsibility has come upon me. There are plenty of times I want to break down, but I don't. "
The roles of father and son have basically been reversed with Ruben taking care of everything from cooking and doing laundry for his dad to helping him with daily hygiene.
Ruben works at the Jeep plant, a place his father worked for more than 30 years. While Ruben's on the job, he hires caregivers to be with his father. Doing that is expensive, so Ruben went from a four or five day work week to working six or seven to help pay the bills, "the emotional part is hard enough but when you add on the financial part it's like a double whammy, sometimes it's hard to comprehend what's happening."
Nick Amrhein is a friend of Ruben's from high school. Nick shot and produced a three-part series called The Long Goodbye. It was released this month. The series documents the gut wrenching struggles of watching a loved one slip further and further into the disease, "There were messages from Ireland, Australia, Ontario , Sweden. It was crazy. If I helped just one person, the documentary has done its job because there are so many people who have stories just like mine."
While it's sometimes hard to look back before his dad was diagnosed, Ruben says it's comforting to know that moving forward he will be by his father's side every step of the way. It will be a long, but important goodbye, "My dad was always my best friend and always by my side. It's emotional, but it's an honor to do what I have to do." How lucky Jose is to have a son like Ruben.
Unfortunately this same story is playing out all over our country right now. If you'd like to learn more, we've posted a link.