After Alzheimer’s diagnosis, ‘Life becomes so precious now’


In 2013, “Deadwood” showrunner David Milch was in New York City, toiling on a TV pilot, when he suddenly couldn’t remember where he parked his car.

It wasn’t the first sign of trouble: Words, the “NYPD Blue” co-creator noticed, had been coming to him unusually slowly. Friends and family had noticed a shift in his temper. He was struggling to keep plotlines straight in his writing projects.

In April, Milch, now 74, told reporters that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The degenerative condition, thought to be caused by protein-based plaque that forms in the brain and disrupts cell function, affects 10 percent of the population over age 65.

Milch, whose gritty Western “Deadwood: The Movie” debuts Friday on HBO, was diagnosed relatively early — probably because his career spotlit signs of the disease.

“When you’re retired, you may not recognize symptoms the way you do when you are working,” Dr. Lawrence Honig, professor of neurology at Columbia University, tells The Post.

Milch — despite bouts of “self pity” — seems set on throwing himself into work: He’s still writing every day, and working on a memoir with assistants’ help.

Early-onset Alzheimer’s patient Chris Hannafan, 68, can relate to his journey. Nearly a decade ago, the San Francisco-based techie was traveling around the world for computer software company Oracle. “All of a sudden,” he says, “I looked down at my keyboard and had no idea what to do with it.”

Hannafan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2012, and has spent the ensuing years dealing with frustrations, including a weaker sense of direction — not ideal for an intrepid hiker like himself — and having to give up his driver’s license.

He retired seven years ago, and has tried to make the best of his steadily worsening situation since. Like Milch, he’s trying to keep some of his old life intact: He ran full marathons when he was healthy, and runs half-marathons now.

“I believe that running helps blood to circulate through the brain quicker. Running all the time makes me feel better,” says Hannafan.

‘When you’re retired, you may not recognize symptoms the way you do when you are working.’

His love of hiking remains, although it now comes with drawbacks: “We went on a hiking trip to Portugal a couple of weeks ago. I would take breakfast from the buffet and then forget where to go to eat.”

Like Milch, Hannafan gets depressed reckoning with the future he’s staring down. There are days, he admits, when he does not feel like getting out of bed.

At the same time, both men feel an urgency to accomplish what they can for as long as their brains hold up. For Milch, it’s the memoir. For Hannafan, it’s seeing as many live performances as possible, while he can still appreciate them. He caught a matinee of “Hamilton” hours before speaking with The Post — sometimes leaning on his partner of 20 years, Debbie Katz, to track the story — and has plans to see Elton John as well as Jackson Browne on upcoming tours.

“Life becomes so precious now,” says Katz, 60, a psychotherapist. “It’s hard, but not as hard as what will be down the line with this insidious disease . . . My feeling is that Chris should enjoy everything he can.”

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