HIGHLAND PARK – Michael Folio was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2012 at age 56, about four months after he and his wife Cheryl Levin-Folio were married. But instead of surrendering to the sadness of her husband’s illness, the Highland Park resident focused on making sure that he had the best quality of life possible and still does.
“Michael smiles at me every moment and that twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes is always there,” said Levin-Folio. “I’m hoping that it will last until he closes his eyes forever.”
The Alzheimer’s Association will launch “The Longest Day” on June 21, which is the longest day of the year and summer solstice. Thousands of people will participate in different activities to support their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. http://act.alz.org/site/TR?fr_id=10935&pg=informational&sid=24695
Here are some startling statistics about Alzheimer’s:
- 7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s
- By 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million
- Every 65 seconds someone in the Unites States develops the disease
Closer to home, Levin-Folio has been the co-chair for the NorthShore Walk to End Alzheimer’s for the past three years.
“Our size has tripled since I have started with now over 2,000 walkers,” said Levin-Folio.
The NorthShore Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be held on September 15th, at Gallery Park in Glenview (The Glen). http://act.alz.org/site/TR/Walk2018/IL-Illinois?pg=entry&fr_id=11201
The NorthShore Walk to End Alzheimer’s is in its sixth year and Folio has actively participated on Team Folio-Levin. He was very active before Alzheimer’s and his wife has been determined to keep him that way.
Folio retired shortly after his diagnosis and could no longer drive, because his balance and awareness were impaired. Although he was willing to take a special drivers test, he failed twice.
“When Michael went to renew his driver’s license, they confiscated it and cut it up in front of him and I think that was more painful than just telling him not to drive,” said Levin-Folio.
Fortunately, Levin-Folio found her husband a wonderful buddy, Lee Gimbel, to play golf, tennis, see movies, workout and go out for lunch three days a week for more than four years.
In 2015, Levin-Folio retired to became his full-time caregiver, and she still made sure to schedule lots of “guy time” for her husband.
Gimbel and his wife Joni became very close friends of the Folios, and they have also participated in The Walk.
In addition to being a former commercial real estate executive, event chair and full-time caregiver, Levin-Folio became a self-published author in 2016 with, The 24-Hour Rule: Living With Alzheimer’s (available on amazon.com).
She told her husband that they should write a book before she retires and he said, “When are you going to do it – in your free time?”
Levin-Folio said she wanted to write a book to share stories about their strategies for Alzheimer’s, because there was nothing written about someone being diagnosed in their mid-50s and how to preserve their time.
Levin-Folio wrote the how-to-guide based on their experiences in just seven months.
She encourages family members to create a good support group from day one to work with every day
“As a caregiver, I think the biggest stress is when you’re trying to pretend that a loved one doesn’t have an illness or you’re trying to hide it,” said Levin-Folio. “To me it’s all about communication and being open and honest.”
Folio is now in stage 7, the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease and Levin-Folio continues to tell their story to help others who have family members or friends with the disease.
“Michael could still say phrases like good morning and I love you, but anything after the third word is usually gibberish,” she said. “He was in stage six about four months ago, so stages six and seven go very quickly. Weeks are like months.”
Levin-Folio explained that her husband still recognizes her and his current caregiver, Oliver Vidal, because he sees them every day. The couple also have a dog named Oliver and they’re known as Oliver I and Oliver II.
“The fun thing is that everybody comes when you say Oliver,” she said. They also have another dog named Baxter.
The Folios have five children between them and a grandchild. He has three girls; two live in Atlanta and one lives in New York. Levin-Folio has a daughter and a son who have known their step-dad since they were eight and 10 and they’re very close.
Levin-Folio said her husband recognizes the people that he sees regularly, and that’s why it’s so important to reinforce frequent visits, as the stigma often makes people afraid.
Levin-Folio is grateful for his team of doctors at NorthShore University HealthSystem which include: Dr. Chad Yucus, neurologist, Dr. Martin Sachman, concierge physician and Julie Fohrman, geriatric care manager. “Having that primary care doctor at arms-length is vital to getting the answers and getting the team established,” she said.
Real estate brought the couple together.
They met over 15 years ago when Folio was speaking at a conference to an audience of nearly 2,000 people and Levin-Folio was “enamored with him. I thought Michael was six feet tall and he was five foot four,” she said.
The Home Depot executive officer and real estate entrepreneur became a mentor, then a good friend and the rest was history. Though they’ve only been married six years, the eternally optimistic Levin-Folio considers it, “15 wonderful years of growing together.”
“We still laugh, hold hands and snuggle on the couch,” said Levin-Folio.” Michael still kisses me every morning and every night. The legacy I can leave for him is that I can show his courage and dignity was never taken away.”
The NorthShore Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be held on September 15th, at Gallery Park in Glenview.
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