Ben Ferguson, 66, and his wife of more than four decades, Robyn, 64, grew up in Texas. It’s where they met and fell in love. About a year ago, Ben was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease. And so the couple moved to Chicago to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren. They recently came to the StoryCorps booth in the Chicago Cultural Center to relive Ben’s earliest memories, and to describe what the disease has meant for their family.
Alzheimer’s disease, which negatively impacts the brain’s ability to remember things, may affect more than five million Americans, according to the National Institute on Aging. That number is growing, however, and could reach as many as 16 million by the year 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Illinois.
“These memories are going to fade,” Robyn said. “They’ve already begun to,” Ben said.
In the booth, the couple talked about how Ben got into all kinds of trouble in elementary and high school. He once wrecked two of the family cars in one day. He was kicked out of several universities, before finding his footing and eventually earning a PhD in Psychology.
“There have always been two sides to you,” Robyn said. “You’re a bad boy. But you’re a good boy too. I liked the bad boy first and now I like the good boy better.” “Yeah, but the bad boy got you,” Ben said, laughing.
When Ben met Robyn, he said it was love at first sight. She thinks the attraction might have been more physical at first. “I was pretty sure I wasn’t gonna be able to run over you,” Ben said. “I was definitely sure that you were one of the prettiest women I have ever seen and I had tender feelings toward you.” They married two months after meeting. They had two kids, one of whom moved to Chicago.
Then about a year ago, Ben started showing signs of Alzheimer’s. “It was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Ben said. “I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with it.”
Now, Ben and Robyn live in Chicago and enjoy spending time with their grandkids. Ben participates in some long-term research programs at Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC). He also takes classes there to help build memory through improvisation and takes part in a buddy program. He and Robyn are part of a storytelling group for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.
“We’ll just keep working on things,” Robyn said. “I think we’re doing really good,” he added.