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Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis doesn’t stop determined resident

June 21, 2012
By RENEE PRUSI - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Three years ago, Escanaba native Terry Hillegas was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease at age 55.

His life is going through some necessary changes, but Hillegas is not letting the diagnosis slow him down. Not one bit.

While he's in Marquette temporarily staying with his sister, Nancy Rolig-Todd, Hillegas has been working closely with Travis Alexander, director of personal training at Motions Fitness in Marquette, on staying in top physical condition, embracing the challenges.

Article Photos

Terry Hillegas, works with trainer Travis Alexander at Motions Fitness in Marquette. Diagnosed three years ago with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 55, Hillegas is striving to keep in the best physical shape possible and Alexander has developed an exercise program to help Hillegas do exactly that. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)

"Training? All of it. I really love all of it," Hillegas said.

Alexander said he has been working with Hillegas on complex coordinated movements, something that helps those dealing with Alzheimer's.

'You get the heart rate up and the brain to connect," Alexander said. "This creates patterns for the brain, patterns that can be repeated."

Hillegas does a variety of workouts, including walking on a "ladder" on the floor, push-ups, balance exercises and indoor cycling.

"Terry loves the RPM program (indoor cycling)," Alexander said. "He loves to bike."

Hillegas said, "I would like to ride here (in Marquette) but I don't know where I am going."

But working out at the fitness center affords him the chance to get exercise in a secure environment.

"Here he's safe," Alexander said. "But we also give him challenges. The brain loves to be challenged. You see regression if you don't work on challenges. Terry loves to bike ride so why should he stop?"

Don Hillegas, father of Nancy and Terry, has been visiting Marquette from Florida in recent weeks. He's proud of his children.

"Three years ago, Terry was helping others with Alzheimer's," Don HIllegas said. "He still is."

In part, that's because Terry volunteered to be part of Alzheimer's research.

"I did some clinical trials a couple of years ago," he said.

"That's a huge help," said Ruth A. Almen, regional director for the Alzheimer's Association Upper Peninsula Region. "Terry, you're helping focus on a cure."

Hillegas is staying with his sister while his wife, Karin, moves his family to Virginia from Colorado, where they have lived for a number of years. Terry and Karin Hillegas have two children at home, Bergin, 15, and Ben, 10, as well as a son Brodie, who is in his first year as a member of the U.S. Army.

"They're all going to be together on June 30," Rolig-Todd said with a smile. "Terry has come to see me before, but this time he's really comfortable, especially working with Travis. It's giving Karin some time to get things settled in Virginia.

"I am so proud of Terry and how he gets in to doing this (working out)," she said. "I wanted to share with others about this. I want them to know you can walk in to a place like Motions and be comfortable in your workout and gain knowledge as you go along."

Alexander said some still have a stereotypical view of a gym as a place for bodybuilders only.

"There's nothing wrong with body building. We help with that, too. But we are much more than that here. We are not here to be intimidating. We are here to help," Alexander said. "This place is like a big family. It's welcoming. We want you to feel good, to enjoy your time here. We want you to want to do this.

"You've got to have fun when you're working out," he said. "I get Terry laughing while he's here."

Don Hillegas supports that notion.

"I trained with Travis, too, last year and enjoyed it," he said. "And I have lost 30 pounds."

Physical activity can be important for Alzheimer's patients, Almen said.

"Maintaining the ability to move is important. People need to continue with the things they love," she said. "It keeps everyone happier."

For Terry Hillegas, his Marquette workouts are an extension of what he has done in the past.

"While I lived in Colorado, I was going to a (workout) place, too," Hillegas said.

When he joins his wife and children in Virginia, he hopes to continue working out.

"I am," he said. "I have to."

Alexander said through Skype, he will be happy to keep working with Terry.

"If he wants, I can put a package together for Terry to do at home," he said.

Terry smiled and his father expressed hope for the future, too.

"One of these days we're going to beat this (Alzheimer's)," Don HIllegas said.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.



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