Lessons about Alzheimer’s at work, after Broncos announce owner’s diagnosis

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Clone of Photo: Office Workers (stock image)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.