By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4) – Word of Annabel Bowlen’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is hitting many in Colorado hard.

(credit: CBS)

“It was heartbreaking,” Amelia Schafer, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter, said. “Certainly it feels like a cruel twist of fate.”

It is the same cruel disease Annabel has been an advocate for following her husband’s diagnosis four years ago. Schafer has developed a close bond with the Bowlen family through their help to raise awareness and funding.

Pat Bowlen owner of the Denver Broncos, with his wife Annabel Bowlen to his right, holds the Lombardi Trophy after the Broncos defeated the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII. (credit: Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

“[Annabel] really stepped up and took the reins and became the matriarch and the leader, not only of the family and the Broncos, but really of this cause,” she said.

While there is no cure for the disease yet, Schafer said early detection is critical for families worried their loved ones may have Alzheimer’s.

Amelia Schafer (credit: CBS)

“This can wreak havoc on a family if they don’t understand what’s happening,” Schafer explained. “So to realize it’s a brain disease, and there are times and things they can learn to make life easier and better.”

Memory loss is a hallmark sign of the disease, but there are nine other key signs that are important to look out for, like changes in personality.

“Really when you see someone change completely from who they used to be and start to do things that are very out of character for them,” Schafer said.

The Alzheimer’s Association says these are the 10 signs to know:

– Memory loss that disrupts daily life

– Challenges in planning or solving problems

– Difficulty completing familiar tasks

– Confusion with time or place

– Trouble understanding visual images and distances

– New problems in speech or comprehension

– Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

– Decreased or poor judgment

– Changes in ability to work or socialize

– Changes in mood or personality

An Alzheimer’s diagnoses can be terrifying, as can be the conversation about it. Schafer said as difficult as it may be, it’s important to have an honest and open dialogue.

(credit: CBS)

“One of the things I would urge is don’t try to do this alone,” she said. “We help families through that. It’s one of the things we do on our 24/7 helpline, helping families learn how to have that conversation. Learn what to say and do it in a kind, loving way because you know it’s going to be difficult news for them.”

By announcing her diagnosis, Annabel Bowlen said she’s hopeful it will alleviate the fear of talking about Alzheimer’s. That’s exactly what happened for many people, Schafer said, following Pat Bowlen’s announcement in 2014.

Wednesday’s news will have no impact on the Broncos ownership nor on the day-to-day operations of the team.

(credit: CBS)

“We had so many people call our helpline that day,” she said. “The one that really stuck out to me was a gentleman who’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and hadn’t told his family yet. He called our helpline and said, ‘If a man like Pat Bowlen can have Alzheimer’s and talk about it, so can I.’ That shows you the power of a family like this coming out and talking about it.”

The Alzheimer’s Association offers free services and resources for people battling the disease as well as their families across Colorado. For more information, visit, or call the 24/7 helpline 1-800-272-3900.

Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.

  1. Your newscasters need to understand that there is no “T” in the word Alzheimers. Stop pronouncing it like there is. They sound ignorant!

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