ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WJBK) - "I almost am married to two different people. I have my husband and I have the person I care for," says Nikki Dodson.
She calls husband Ken Dodson her "person", the one man she's destined to be with. A kind man, a wonderful father and husband. Dodson, 37, says that eight years ago her husband was becoming someone else - someone she didn't know.
"I knew that was not my husband," Nikki says. "The person that was coming out. The person he was becoming was not the person that I married. It wasn't the man I was dating, it wasn't the man I've known for 17 years."
Married for nearly nine years, Dodson says she noticed her 29-year-old husband, Ken, began having problems at work, remembering small things. And later he became irritable.
"The main thing that made us concerned was when he went to the store and didn't know how to get home that day," Nikki says.
They had become worried since they had just started their lives together. They went to see doctors and were told that her husband may be suffering from depression.
"Doctors after doctors said, 'We were nuts, we were crazy,' it was in his head," Nikki says.
A week before her husband's 30th birthday the couple finally received a diagnosis of early on-set Alzheimer's disease. Dodson, expecting a brain tumor, says she thought it was a joke. At 29, how can this be possible?
"Alzheimer's is a progressive brain disease, it is nothing to be ashamed of," says Jennifer Howard, Executive Director of the Alzheimer's Association, Michigan Great Lakes Chapter. "It is something we have to start talking about."
While the average age of Alzheimer's diagnoses are around the age of 65, Nikki Dodson says she was shocked to hear her husband was being given about 7-10 "good years."
Nikki told their three children that "Daddy's brain is sick," and is refusing to leave his side.
"We're partners in this, we made a vow to each other and I will continue that vow until he takes his last breath," she says.
Now, eight years later, Dodson says she's noticing a decline, describing a moment her husband thought he was being held captive in his own home. He became aggressive and defensive, breaking appliances and furniture.
"When he found out what happened, he was devastated," Nikki says.
As the brain deteriorates, the body shuts down. Dodson says her husband lately forgets how to swallow and, sometimes, walk.On Wednesday, when FOX 2 was speaking with the family, he was not feeling well enough to talk.
"He's having a hard time today and he doesn't like other people to see him when he's like that," Nikki says.
They are working with the Alzheimer's Association to spread awareness, Nikki is planning to walk by Ken's side on June 20 and participate in The Longest Day, a day to benefit Alzheimer's research. A day to promote healthy eating and exercise keeping brains and bodies strong.
While Dodson says people have called her crazy, she calls her life "her normal," now using her story to give others hope and refusing to become prisoners to this disease.
"You're not alone, there's hope," she said. "Don't let this disease defeat you."
If you'd like more information on Alzheimer's Disease, you can call the toll-free helpline at 1-800-272-3900, or visit www.alz.org.
Editor's Note: The family tells FOX 2 Ken has been tested twice for Lyme disease. We've added this information after receiving several emails suggesting he may have Lyme disease.