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THE NEXT STEPS: SWFL woman says she won't let Alzheimer's slow her down

Lee Balenger at the Walk to End Alzheimer's
Posted at 10:15 AM, Dec 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-03 10:15:34-05

FORT MYERS, Fla — Lee Balenger is one of the 26,000 Lee County residents living with Alzheimer's disease.

But her early diagnosis three years ago at age 79 has not slowed her down.

"People look at me sometimes, and go wow, you don't seem to have anything wrong with you. I can't believe you have Alzheimer's," Balenger said.

Lee volunteers at a local thrift store, helps others who live with Alzheimer's and is a part of a Johnson and Johnson clinical study at Neuropsychiatric Research Center of Southwest Florida to slow down her illness.

She originally got a memory test at the center after having moments where she forgot how to operate her coffee machine. Balenger said forgetting car key's doesn't mean it's dementia or Alzheimer's, but when someone forgets their neighbors name who they have lived next to for years, it's worth a memory test.

"I felt energy. I felt thankfulness that this was discovered early," she said. Lee added she believes the study has helped her memory and hasn't slowed her down.

Belanger said, "I think I’ve been not surprised but encouraged that I’ve taken this by the ball running with it.”

Lee walked hand in hand with her husband, Joe, and hundreds of others at the Fort Myers Walk to End Alzheimer's. The Walk raised more than $100,000 for the Alzheimer's Association's research for their Southwest Florida chapter.

“It’s not out of character for her. It’s the way she’s been all her life,” Joe Balenger said.

Joe’s been by Lee’s side the past 60 years and said other couples who get this diagnosis can be just like Lee.

“They can take charge of what’s going to happen. They can be proactive and be prepared for those things that can’t change…and live life to the fullest while you can,” he added.

Balenger said, “I’m 82 years old. Something’s gonna get me. Maybe this is it, maybe not, but whatever it is I say go to the doctor.”

NPRC in Fort Myers offers free memory screens for peoople who struggle with memory loss.