The Path that Led to You: a Love Story through Dementia

Robert Hahn was killing time after dropping his 15-year-old daughter off at the roller-skating rink on a Friday the 13th in May of 1983 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. What would typically be considered an unlucky day turned out to be where two paths that had been so close in proximity were about to finally meet and begin a lifetime of adventure. Sitting at the bar at the Sheraton lounge, Robert recalls the moment when Patricia Jean walked through the door with a friend. “She kinda caught my eye when she walked in and I said, ‘Woah, I’d like to meet that lady!’,” Robert says with a smile. “I finally got the courage and started chatting with the two of them, which was kinda brave for me ‘cause I was a shy person. We started talking and low and behold, found out she was from Indiana and so was I.”

Feeling confident, Robert asked her out, and she accepted. However, she didn’t show up! Having arranged to meet at North Lake Park, Robert waited patiently until a blonde coworker of Patty’s arrived instead, sharing with him that Patty couldn’t make it because she was picking up her son from a hiking trip in the central Pennsylvania mountains. “We didn’t have cell phones then and she had a good reason”, Robert laughs. That first date was rescheduled and led to them tying the knot nearly a year later. 

The commonalities between them made it evident that the couple was meant to be. Having lived only an hour away from one another near South Bend, Indiana as youth, their parents had gone to the same eye doctor. Their paths brought them in the same geographic area once again as adults when Robert’s job as an environmental engineer and Patty’s second marriage brought them to Pittsburgh. Of her four children and his daughter from their previous marriages, Patty’s oldest son and Robert share the same birthday, in addition to her youngest daughter and his daughter having the same birthday. “We kept saying this is unreal!”, Robert chuckles. 

A shared love of traveling led to frequent road trips and going on cruises. Patty worked as an office manager at an orthodontist office and at an antique store during their marriage. Mostly, Robert says she enjoyed any opportunity to be with people, working in her garden, and walks in the park with him and their rescue dogs – Petey and Zach – when they later moved after retirement to Harnett County, North Carolina in 2007 and then to Moore County in 2017.  Eight years later, though in 2015, Robert began noticing some small differences in Patty’s memory; not being able to recall plans or what day of the week it was. He shares, “It was mild in the beginning with her short-term memory and we didn’t do anything about it at first. But in August 2015, I went with her to her primary care doctor, and he suggested that we do some testing, and that’s when she was diagnosed with MCI – mild cognitive impairment.” They then began their journey with Pinehurst Neuropsychology and Dr. Karen Sullivan, who got her started on a treatment and informed them of the resources available to them through the Alzheimer’s Association. Robert shared that while the diagnosis was devastating for them, he notes that Patty was relieved to know that there was a reason behind the confusion of what was going on with her memory. They began attending a support group for couples offered locally, but Patty eventually grew weary of going as her symptoms began to worsen. Robert, however, sought out a caregivers support group to have an outlet of support for himself. 

Their beloved road trips came to an end in March of 2019 after going to Florida to visit Patty’s youngest daughter. With her routine and familiar surroundings shaken, a common behavioral change those living with dementia. Robert recalls all she wanted to do was go home as soon as they arrived, to his great disappointment. “That was the last road trip and by this point in the Alzheimer’s journey, her demeanor had begun to change drastically from her normal sweetness”, he shares. When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Patty and Robert had to face the challenges of navigating a pandemic, in addition to her symptoms worsening. After several challenging visits to the hospital for other health ailments, and an incident at a neighbor’s house that alarmed him by the gravity of how much worse it could have been, Robert made the difficult decision that he could no longer care for Patty alone. “Thankfully, Fox Hollow had one opening during COVID, but that meant I couldn’t see her other than video calls because of the safety protocols”. Eventually, he was able to visit her outdoors and he brought Patty’s dog, Petey with him frequently. However, an accident that led to a fractured hip in October of 2020 brought a quick deterioration that led to her being moved into hospice care. The next month, Patty’s Alzheimer’s journey came to a close. 

Following her memorial service in 2021, Robert wanted to find a way to honor his late wife, which is when he learned about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Moore County. “I said I have to do it for her. So I registered and created Team Patty Hahn in her memory. I made a list of all the friends and family I knew and reached out to them asking for donations.”, Robert shares. The response was incredible; their team raised $1,175 within just a few days and Robert was recognized as a Grand Champion in fundraising by the Alzheimer’s Association. He and Petey walked together, as they used to with Patty. And this year, Team Patty Hahn will walk again at Aberdeen Lake Park on October 1 in her memory. 

Their paths, always so close in proximity and then brought together one fateful night at a Sheraton in Pittsburgh, forever intertwined, continue into the next chapter. Robert shares their love story and Alzheimer’s journey as one of the facilitators now to others at the same bereavement support group at his church – Sacred Heart Catholic – he attended after Patty’s passing. “There’s a lot of things that should be done to help both the patients and the caregivers, because the caregivers are under a lot of stress, as I found out. We need to find a cure.”

LIKE ROBERT, WE ALL HAVE A REASON TO FIGHT FOR A WORLD WITHOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Join your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s today as an individual, team, or sponsor.

The Alzheimer’s Association hosts 17 walks across North Carolina. The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Since 1989, the Alzheimer’s Association® mobilized millions of Americans in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk®; now the Alzheimer’s Association is continuing to lead the way with Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Together, we can end Alzheimer’s. Your health and safety are our top priorities. We will continue to closely monitor CDC, state and local guidelines to ensure Walk events adhere to the latest recommendations.

Alamance County9/24/2022
Guilford County10/15/2022
Henderson County9/24/2022
Iredell County9/24/22
Moore County10/1/2022
Mount Airy09/10/2022
New Bern10/22/2022
Unifour (formerly Hickory)10/29/2022
Triangle (Raleigh-Durham)10/15/22

Alzheimer’s isn’t stopping and neither are we.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s