TOLEDO, Ohio — The family of former Columbus Zoo director "Jungle" Jack Hanna made a difficult announcement Wednesday, revealing the popular television personality has dementia.
In a letter, his daughters said their dad's diagnosis is now believed to be Alzheimer's disease and his condition progressed much faster than expected in the last few months.
He retired last December after serving as both director and director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for 42 years.
WTOL 11 went to the experts for insight on what you can do if some day, you find yourself in the same situation as Hanna and his family.
There are signs you can notice, but there's also treatment available.
"It's never a shock. Unfortunately, 6.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, age 65 and over. And then there are several hundred-thousand who are under 65," said Julia Pechlivanos, the Executive Director with Alzheimer's Association Northwest Ohio Chapter.
Hanna turned 74 in January.
The Alzheimer's Association Northwest Ohio Chapter says it can happen to anyone, regardless of background, race or ethnicity.
"The symptoms can be really subtle. When a family member or loved one suddenly starts to have some issues with dementia. It can be simple things like short-term memory loss. Repeating questions. Answering questions that you thought you told them earlier," said Anna McMaster, a Family Physician in Napoleon with Mercy Health.
At this point, it's time to take your loved one to the hospital for a clear diagnosis.
"It's different in every person. So the family has today talked about how quick this has been for Jack Hanna. But people can live up to 20 years after a dementia diagnosis. It just depends on how quick it takes hold in the individual's brain," said Pechlivanos.
In order to slow the progress of dementia, actions have to be taken quickly.
"There are medications that have come out in the last 10 years and a little longer that can be helpful to delay the decline. Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia. But there are treatment options that tend to help," said McMaster.
This can prove effective when started sooner and combined with good sleep, a healthy diet and exercise.
Everyone is different, but health professionals want you to know you're not the only one suffering.
"I think a lot of people feel like this is a death sentence and it's a loss. They mourn their previous lifestyle, so it can be quite devastating. But knowing that they're not alone and that there are treatment options, and that their doctor will be there to walk it through it with them, can be really reassuring," said McMaster.
The Alzheimer's Association Northwest Ohio Chapter has a 24-hour phone line you can call if you have any questions or need support. That number is 1-800-272-3900. You can also call 419-537-1999.
The association's website provides more details on symptoms associated with the disease.