Actress Julianne Moore and film crew members presented Sandy Oltz with a birthday cake on set for her 50th birthday. Photo contributed by the Alzheimer’s Association.
Sandy Oltz never intended to be in the national spotlight, but she never thought she’d be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s before her 50th birthday either.
The mother and wife from Sartell was a former operating room nurse at St. Cloud Hospital when she was told at age 46 that she had the chronic neurodegenerative disease.
“It went as far as that I couldn’t remember my (computer) password from day to day,” Oltz said. “I was forgetting to pick my boys up from their sports, losing things around the house — not just losing them but not even being able to find them again.”
The 51-year-old not only became an advocate for herself but the 200,000 or so like her with younger or early onset Alzheimer’s, which affects those younger than age 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“I took a class called ‘Habit’ through the Mayo Clinic, and it’s a class that teaches you and your partner how to create habits, if you will, and how to live healthy through the early stages of this disease — things like keeping your toaster in the same place,” she said.
Oltz also makes a lot of notes and carries a planner and cell phone with her at all times, even around the house, she said.
“We have a white board that is hanging on the wall, so everything is written down as what I need to do today, and it can be stuff as little as reminding myself to drink water … because you get so involved in things, you forget to eat and drink,” she said of the cues.
More than 47 million people worldwide are living with the disease and other dementias, including more than 5 million in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Anybody with a brain is at risk for Alzheimer’s,” Oltz said of the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Oltz was one of 10 members of the national Early Stage Advisory Group for the Alzheimer’s Association and went around the country speaking on the topic.
“In the 12 months, I traveled 13 times,” she said. “That was a lot of different people — met a lot of big and influential people — and, yeah, it was very cool.”
Oltz served as a consultant on the film Still Alice, featuring Oscar-winner Julianne Moore playing a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
“The producers and screenwriters were looking to make this as authentic as possible, so they reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association,” Oltz said.
Oltz helped out the movie makers with the script to more accurately portray an Alzheimer’s patient and was eventually asked to talk to Moore.
“They had me in the movie as well, and it was just kind of surreal to be able to see a movie being filmed and get to meet everybody, and Julianne and I are still very close; I just spoke to her over the weekend, so we still speak weekly.”