Alzheimer's sufferer says "miracle" drug saved his life

LUCKY: Woorim dementia sufferer Tony Hogben has turned his life around with the help of a wonder drug.
LUCKY: Woorim dementia sufferer Tony Hogben has turned his life around with the help of a wonder drug. Dominic Geiger

YELLING at his "bugger of a kid" to slow down, Woorim man Tony Hogben had no idea he was about to discover the key to treating his debilitating Alzheimer's.

It was mid-2010, and the illness had taken its toll on the former workaholic food inspector.

"I'd lost that much weight and had deteriorated mentally as well as physically," Mr Hogben said.

"It's a horrible disease - it destroys you."

Unable to drive himself, Mr Hogben's son had picked him up so he could spend some time with family in Brisbane.

Having just acquired a new V8 Holden, his son was keen to show his ailing father what it could do, and pushed the vehicle past 140kmph on the way to the highway.

"I'm screaming, he's laughing his head off," Mr Hogben said.

"I abused him all the way back to his place."

Before the joyride, Mr Hogben said he was near death.

His dementia had crept up on him over many years after an horrific car crash in 1998 when he had to be "put back together".

He first realised something was "seriously wrong" when, several years following the crash, he became lost in a small town with only one street while driving from Port Macquarie to Dubbo.

"I sat there for two hours," he said.

"I didn't know who I was, where I was going, I couldn't believe it.

"So I sat in the street and had a chocolate milk."

Mr Hogben believes he "wouldn't have made it past Christmas" of 2010.

But the sudden adrenaline rush of speeding down the road with his son produced a profound change in his health.

Suddenly he found he could do crosswords again, and watch TV.

"I felt real good," Mr Hogben said.

"I thought, I know what this is, it's that adrenaline rush he put me through."

Five days later, when he was back on the island, Mr Hogben spoke to his GP about his experience.

Based on his story, his doctor decided to try him on a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor called Cymbalta - a drug normally used to treat depression, not Alzheimer's.

Mr Hogben said he hasn't looked back since.

"I walked back home, at 6 o'clock that night, I took it," he said.

"At 8 o'clock that night there I am as good as gold again.

"I could dress myself without falling over, watch TV ... I thought you beauty!"

Mr Hogben has been taking Cymbalta for five years.

Although it boasts a terrifying list of side effects, including suicidal ideation, Mr Hogben sings its praises.

"I've been on it ever since - the drug has saved my life," he said.

"Here I am able to talk about it today."

His recovery has been so profound, he has created a website telling his story, in the hope he can help other Alzheimer's sufferers.

A former race horse owner, Mr Hogben has even self-published a book on the at-times "nefarious" nature of the racing industry.

"I've had a few angry phone calls since then," he said.

For all his improvements, Mr Hogben knows he's still not 100%.

He at times forgets the chronological order of events, but can describe an incident from 10 years ago with remarkable clarity.

He also wears a Safely Home ID bracelet - an initiative by Alzheimer's Australia and Queensland Police to help members of the public identify dementia sufferers who "wander".

Now 65, Mr Hogben is looking forward to living his life with the aid of his "miracle" drug.

His story has spread; so far in fact, that one of the drug's designers suffering from early onset dementia recently emailed him seeking his advice.

"I said you have the treatment in your hands - do something with it," he said.

September is Dementia Awareness Month.

For details contact Alzheimer's Australia on 1800 100 500.

Topics:  alzheimer's dementia health

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