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Lee with her children

Former teacher deals with form of dementia

By Michael Butler

Most people recognize the acronym FTD based on ads by a flower delivery service. Those three letters are also stand for Frontotemporal Dementia, a common cause of dementia.

Jennifer Lee, a former school teacher in Tallassee, taught for 17 years. Now she is in early retirement after being diagnosed with FTD.

"I was officially diagnosed in December of 2018," Lee said. "I started noticing small things probably a year before. I would forget. People say that's typical. When you do it over and over, it becomes a pattern."

Lee was tutoring a student after school when she started stumbling on multiplication tables.

"We were working on 5's, which are the easiest. I couldn't remember. It was more than just forgetting. I was more sensitive to noise and over-stimulation. I was used to those things because I had been a teacher for so long."

FTD can affect behavior, personality, language and movement.

"My variant is the speech variant. It's so ironic that an old English teacher and librarian would get the speech variant. I splice words together, use the wrong word in context and talk like Yoda. My sentences will be inverted."

Mornings are better in Lee's case. Her symptoms typically worsen as the day progresses.

She had to abruptly stop teaching to go through a series of tests at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta where the diagnosis was confirmed. That news hit hard for a 41-year-old.

"I thought dementia? Then we had Christmas. Guess what everybody, mom's got a terminal illness."

It might sound cliché that a life-changing event puts a different perspective on things, but it truly has for Lee.

"Now that I've had time to process and accept, how many of us are not going to die? Last year, it was hard when school started back and I didn't go back. That was the first year I had ever not gone back to school. That's when I realized it was all up to me whether I was going to make this day a good day or a bad day."

Lee displays the ad that ran in the New York Times

Making the best of things has become Lee's philosophy on life.

"There are days when I have mind-splitting migraines or are more shaky on my right side or my balance is off. I've had to learn to live with adaptations. Do you really want to stand still and do nothing?"

Lee has also brought awareness to FTD. She wrote a letter that was printed in an advertisement in the Sunday edition of the New York Times on Oct. 4.

"We're working in companionship with the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. AFTD is our advocacy group. The AFTD ran two ads in the New York Times. Our family was featured."

Lee will also be featured in a documentary on FTD to be aired on the Discovery Channel.

The FTD "Hot Shot Challenge" is raising awareness and dollars. Lee, who is not one for spicy food, took the challenge of downing a shot of hot sauce.

The goal was to hit $100,000. That number has been reached, but the drive continues.

"We're going to keep it going. I and five other ladies are working on the campaign. (FTD) is a lot more common than people realize."

To find out more information, visit Lee's Facebook page or the FTD Hot Shot Challenge website.

*WTLS Radio Interview