‘It’s my life’
November 12, 2007
Ron Martling walks over, extends his arm with a grin, and asks the same question he asks everyone else all day long:
“Are you going to hit me?”
It might be amusing to Ron, 66, but to his wife, Beverly Martling, it is another embarrassing moment she relives day after day in public and private as she deals with his dwindling mind.
Ron has semantic dementia, one of three maladies known as FTD, or frontotemporal dementia, also knows as “Pick’s disease.”
Hitting at an earlier age than most dementias or Alzheimer’s is a linking characteristic of FTD patients. Some cases have hit people in their late 30s and early 40s, according to the national Association for Frontotemporal Dementias.
“It starts with language,” said Beverly Martling, 60, who said Ron’s business associates saw it before she did in 1999.
“Now,” she said, “He’s lost all his social graces, and we had a couple of problems this summer with the police.”
That’s when Ron Martling bolted from the house and ran through the neighborhood toward his son and ex-wife’s homes. He didn’t hurt himself or anyone else – he isn’t violent – and he strangely wasn’t lost.
But his escapades continued, forcing Beverly Martling to put reverse deadbolts in the doors.
“Once we secured the doors, he started going through the windows,” Beverly Martling said. “It’s like being in a fortress, but it helps keep him off the streets.
“It’s progressing, and it keeps getting worse. I tell people that he’s my 210 pound 4-year-old.”
Beverly Martling is devoted to taking care of Ron Martling. “It’s my life,” but she continues because he was such a loving and caring husband who brought her out of a rough prior time and marriage.
It doesn’t give Beverly Martling time to do what she really wants and that is to gather donations for the FTD association. The association is raising funds to discover a drug for FTD.
The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation has pledged to match every dollar the association raises with two from its own fund. (To donate, see the attached text box.)
FTD hit Ron when he was 59, and the one-time Grass Valley Group member was forced to sell his spinoff printing business within two years. Today, he doesn’t even know he owned a company or that he volunteered for youth sports and with the sheriff’s department just three years ago.
Most people don’t react much to Ron’s constant question about hitting, but there are those the Martlings run into who get highly offended without knowing about his inner hell.
During a one-hour stay at his home, Ron continued to ask his uncomfortable question. The only other things he said, repeatedly, were, “No, No, No, No, No, No,” and, “My memory’s shot to heck right now.”
Strange things continue to crop up with Ron Martling that are consistent with other FTD patients struggling to keep hold of their personality, social contacts and ability to make decisions.
“At the end of August, he quit eating and lost 45 pounds,” Beverly Martling said. “We went to the hospital and even got hospice involved (thinking he would die), and for some reason, he started eating.”
When Ron Martling was diagnosed with FTD in 2003, Beverly Martling was happy because, for the first time, she knew what they were dealing with. But her exultation was short-lived when the doctor told her there was nothing medical science could do.
“He’s in a gap,” Beverly Martling said. “He’s not considered mentally ill, and he’s not ready for a mental institution. I tried a nursing home, and he lasted two hours. I had to pick him up because they thought he might hurt someone.”
Meanwhile, Beverly Martling just deals with it.
“I can’t let him out of my sight” and she refuses to medicate him into a stupor.
Her husband’s condition has also taken its toll on her.
“When we go out and I see normal interaction between husbands and wives, it’s devastating,” Beverly Martling said. “Food is my stress relief now, and I’ve gained 30 pounds.”
“I can take him bowling once a week. We play cards and put together puzzles, but he’s like a little kid.”
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4237.
To join the fight against frontotemporal dementias, and to find a drug to control it, you can donate to:
The Association for
Frontotemporal Dementias, 100 North 17th St., Suite 600, Philadelphia, PA 19103. For more on FTD, log onto http://www.ftd-picks.org.