Today the Denver Broncos officially start training camp for the season, but that start is tempered by news yesterday that longtime owner Pat Bowlen, 70, is giving up control of the team because he’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Team president Joe Ellis is taking over, and he told reporters that Bowlen won't be able to come to the Broncos training facility everyday as he used to.
"He obviously can’t do what he used to do. He didn’t walk through the door this morning. And that’s hard for people. It’s hard for people here, it’s hard for his family." Ellis continued, "Pat’s still alive, but the finality of this announcement is hard for people to come to grips with."
Bowlen led the team to six Super Bowls in his 30 years owning the team. A trust in Bowlen's name will retain ownership, and Bowlen has said he hopes one of his seven kids will eventually take over.
In his comments to reporters, Ellis also acknowledged there has been growing speculation about Bowlen's health. In 2009, the owner told The Denver Post that his short-term memory was fading and he couldn’t remember much about the Broncos’ Super Bowl wins.
Many people suffer from Alzheimer's disease quietly, according to Amelia Schafer, senior program director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado. She told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner that Bowlen's announcement will help other people talk about their diagnoses more publicly.
"This alone will open up the avenues for the 63,000 people in Colorado living with Alzheimer's to talk about it, to share it with their families, their neighbors, and then potentially to share it with their employers," Schafer said.
Talking publicly about the disease is difficult for people, Schafer said. "There still is some stigma attached to recognizing when you have a neurological disorder like Alzheimer's."
Because of that stigma, Schafer said colleagues can help identify a diagnosis before it's official, like in the case of one high-level executive she knows. “Truly the first sign of Alzheimer’s for him was a poor work review that he had. So there are times when employers will recognize the signs first.”
According to the Alzheimer's Association, people with the disease can show any of the following 10 warning signs and symptoms, which employers and coworkers -- as well as family members -- can watch out for. Schafer says while many people struggle with one or more of these things, it's most important to monitor whether any of them change in someone over time.
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
One of the most common signs of Alzheimer's is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
People with Alzheimer's often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
4. Confusion with time or place
People with Alzheimer's can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer's. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
People with Alzheimer's may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a "watch" a "hand-clock").
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
A person with Alzheimer's disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.
8. Decreased or poor judgment
People with Alzheimer's may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
A person with Alzheimer's may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
10. Changes in mood and personality
The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer's can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.
Ryan Warner is the senior host and editor of Colorado Public Radio's daily interview program "Colorado Matters." He regularly reports on the most important issues facing Colorado - from the state capitol, which includes a monthly interview with the Governor of Colorado - to topics concerning health, education, business, energy and the environment and arts and culture.