Shakopee couple help plan free Mayo Clinic conference on dementia and Alzheimer’s

Steve Wagner is a former sales coach who talked for a living – until he couldn’t.

"My words wouldn’t come out," said Wagner.  "I couldn’t find my words.  I was kind of forgetting things."

One night Steve picked up his iPhone and asked, "Hey Siri, what disease makes my words disappear?"  The artificial intelligence voice responded with the term aphasia, a speaking disorder caused by brain damage.  The reply prompted Steve and his wife Anne to see their doctor who sent them to a neurologist for tests.  It led to a diagnosis of a form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Steve was just 56.

Most families would consider it a setback, but in many respects, the Wagner’s considered the early diagnosis a blessing.

"I mean it was worse not to know what was going on," said Steve.  "You start questioning your own self.  You know, am I doing this, or making it up on my own?"

Anne says it has allowed them to manage not only his care but their time together.  "By getting an awareness, understanding of what disease you have allows you to become better educated and then it can allow you to be more planful," said Anne.

It is why the Wagners are helping to plan the Mayo Clinic Conference on Brain Health and Dementia. The conference is a joint effort between Mayo Clinic, the Alzheimer’s Association, and AARP.  It runs on Friday, Oct. 29 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.  The conference is virtual and free for those who register to join in.

Mayo Clinic Neurologist, Dr. Ron Petersen says the conference will be about hope.  Part of that hope is new research.

"There are blood tests now that are being evaluated by Mayo by others around the country, around the world, that are designed to possibly predict who's going to develop the disease in the future," said Petersen.  "Maybe make the diagnosis of the disease through a blood test. And then if these therapies in fact become effective, we'll be able to track the disease process through blood tests."

And that promise and hope is real for Steve and Anne Wagner.

"There’s a lot of awful things out there about this disease, but there are a lot of good things happening, too," said Steve.