Gary Haag: Living his Best with Dementia

“The whole thing was confusing, it was a lot to take in. That first week I kept looking for things, looking and losing things all day long.” He was searching for these undefined things with what he calls “conviction”.

Gary Haag is 67 years old and lives alone in Fairbanks, near his daughter and grandchildren. He’s a retired union construction worker, is active in church and other community groups, and collects bikes to repair and donate to others. Gary is also living with dementia.

His dementia diagnosis happened about a year ago. He was outside playing with his 5-year-old grandson when Gary passed out. His grandson ran from house to house until he found a neighbor at home who could call 911. After being hospitalized and referred to a neurologist, Gary received the news that caught him completely off guard.

“The whole thing was confusing,” Gary shared. “It was a lot to take in. That first week I kept looking for things, looking and losing things all day long.” He was searching for these undefined things with what he calls “conviction”. The more he looked, the more frustrated he became. Then there were the people who didn’t believe that he had dementia.  Was this the way the rest of his life would go — losing treasured memories, not being believed?  

Gary asked himself, ‘Would I rather be happy or right?’ Happy was and is his answer.”

Finally, Gary decided that there had to be a better way. “I’ve got to DO something to live my best life through ‘It’.  The ‘It’ being dementia, of course.” He contacted his healthcare provider who referred him to Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska. He spoke with Education Specialist, Kim Jung, who offered verbal support and mailed him information about living with dementia. This prompted Gary to make some lifestyle changes.

Stock photo close up of dumpbell, senior in gym working out with weights

He started exercising, changed to a healthier diet, and lost 54 pounds.  He immediately felt better and says he even thought he was thinking and remembering better. “Although,” he says, “the dementia is always there.” 

He encountered other health challenges, including sleep apnea and multiple, nightly trips to the bathroom. Gary shared that most nights he gets little rest. He added that the pandemic has created extra stress and challenges. 

Despite all of this, he strives to maintain a good attitude. “Attitude is everything!” Gary says that his focus on attitude has helped him refrain from getting angry or frustrated so quickly.  Gary asked himself, “Would I rather be happy or right?” Happy was and is his answer.  

Gary finds happiness in being close to his family.  He also takes great joy in giving to others in need.  He recently started repairing bicycles and giving them to anyone in Fairbanks who needs one. He finds it uplifting to lift up others. Another a cause for joy, Gary recently found out that he will be able to return to his construction work in a limited status.

Gary attributes his faith to helping him see possibilities as well as manage what he says is the juggling act that is living with dementia. He’s determined to live his best life. “It’s dementia. I have it.  I’m gonna live with it.”  

Our thanks to Gary, who shares his experience of living with Alzheimer’s.