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Cedar Falls family won't let Alzheimer's stop their laughter
May 15

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) _ If you want to test the theory that laughter is the best medicine, you might spend an hour visiting the Payne family. They insist you do, in fact.

Lori Payne, the outgoing matriarch and self-proclaimed funniest of the bunch, welcomes all friends and friendly strangers to the family's Iowa Street home in Cedar Falls, where you should definitely arrive hungry and thirsty.

She, husband Rod and their two adult children are always up for games, particularly Uno and backgammon. They have a full-size Pac-Man arcade game in their living room, with Rod claiming the high score. The games serve as the background for stories, jokes and endless ribbing the outgoing family engages in.

``Everywhere you go, everybody loves Lori,'' Rod said.

``Oh, that's not true, Roddy,'' she retorts.

``Name one person,'' daughter Amanda challenges her.

Lori pauses for a moment, a sly smirk on her face. ``I can't remember, because I have Alzheimer's,'' she says, to laughter.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reports that the joke-within-the-joke is that Lori was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease at age 56. It is fairly uncommon for people under 65, only affecting a fraction of all of those with Alzheimer's.

Now 58, she's had to step down from her sales job, which she loved. She fills the time with near-daily visits from friends, which she diligently writes down in a calendar, and game nights with her family, some of the funniest of which are uploaded to a nearly 600-member strong Facebook group, ``The Young and Forgetful,'' where members post memes, tell jokes and support each other.

``Who needs Alzheimer's when you have this family?'' Lori and Rod's son, Ryan, says on a video during a recent game night, hugging Lori as she laughs. ``My mom does. That's how she deals with us. Every day she's like, `This is the best family ever.'''

Lori interjects that it is, indeed, the best family ever. But Ryan scoffs. ``Because she doesn't remember how much we suck.''

That ability to mock a disease that is slowly robbing Lori of her cognitive abilities is more than a coping mechanism for the family, all of whom admit to being scared at times. It's more like a lifestyle _ laughter, generosity, love _ that has carried them this far in life. They want others to see it's an option for them, too.

``They can see how we're reacting to it and how we're handling it, and know that it's OK to say, `Yes, I have Alzheimer's,''' Amanda said.

Lori's disease progression isn't necessarily something that a casual observer would notice. She's a natural conversationalist and jokester, traits that served her well in her sales job.

Nowadays, those conversations sometimes trail off, or she'll forget what someone just said, or what she got up to retrieve from the kitchen. And she only drives around Cedar Falls now after forgetting where she was in Readlyn one day, her former stomping grounds.

They are things that, for someone else, could cause annoyance, embarrassment or depression _ the stigma of a disease that robs people of their short- and long-term memories. But Lori is adamant about not letting the disease get her down, citing another friend with early-onset Alzheimer's who retreated from social life once she stopped being able to remember everything.

``I feel for people that don't have a positive attitude in life,'' Lori said. ``I have always tried to do that. And, if I didn't have that, I don't know what I'd do. I would really fall apart if I was negative about everything that's happening in my brain.''

Indeed, Lori's positive attitude may measurably help her slow the progression of the disease. Two studies from 2015 show those who had positive attitudes about aging actually staved off brain changes that can lead to dementia, and a 2015 study showed that caregivers with positive attitudes were a better predictor of good patient outcomes than knowledge and training.

``It's a mind game, a little bit, of tricking yourself into, you're happy, life is good, life goes on, the world's still spinning,'' Amanda said.

But the diagnosis was still a shock for family.

``We didn't know how we were going to have to change,'' Rod said. ``Do we walk timid around Lori and don't mention it? Do we just talk about it very little? And then she just took off with it, joking about it, and she goes, `I'm not gonna let this thing beat me. I'm gonna enjoy every day and I wanna let everyone else know' _''

``It's not a death sentence,'' Lori finishes.

``So that's when we decided, `OK, we're going to continue as a family,''' Rod adds.

That was never a question in Lori's mind. And she's adamant it shouldn't be in anyone else's, either.

``You might get diagnosed, but by golly, that doesn't mean you don't have a full life,'' Lori said.

By The Associated Press, Copyright 2021

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