AUSTIN (KXAN) - Carl Gockley, 74, has a memory problem, but he can still remember how it began.
"It was very frightening and overwhelming," he said, "because I was suddenly forgetting things that I had always naturally done.
"No I have to make lists of things to do and post them on the refrigerator and I have to have a date there, what day it is, I can't always remember. And so that's easy to do, but I have to do those little things now that I didn't 50 years ago.
"The biggest thing was that I would forget to zip my fly. Now that sounds funny but it can be embarrassing in public and that was not me. I just couldn't understand why this was happening."
And beyond the embarrassment, Gockley's deteriorating memory soon began to threaten his very safety and the safety of those around him.
"I'd forget to turn off the stove," he said, "and I'd pick up my keys and wonder what I was doing with them, just very strange feelings and emotions because of the memory loss."
Gockley is a Russian Orthodox priest who had to step down from his duties for the church because his memory loss got in their way. With his long white hair and beard, typical of male Orthodox believers, he stands out in the weekly gathering of Alzheimer's patients for an " Early Memory Loss Support " program meeting at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church .
And yet, the retired priest is not alone in his differences.
Program director Anna Finger put it this way: "Someone has said to me once, 'When you've seen one person with Alzheimer's, you've seen one person with Alzheimer's because it looks so different for each person.'"
The group meets every Thursday and another meets Wednesdays in south Austin. Among the activities: creative writing, brain teases, music therapy, current events discussions and a support group led by mental health professionals.
For Gockley, such enterprises pave a road to coping ability.
"A group like this is helpful to me," he said, "because everybody here has a similar difficulty with some memory loss.
"I get a chance to share without feeling that I'm going to be judged or put on the spot if I remember or I forget something, that I don't remember something.
"I feel safe here; I feel that these people understand me and have a sense of belonging, where in the general public, I don't. I'm safe here in a very good healthy way that I don't have to do things that I'm not able to do anymore."
Finger, the director, watches Gockley and the dozen or so other group participants with a mixture of nostalgia and awe.
"I had a really close relationship with my grandparents," she said, "and so I've always felt a connection with older people.
"There's still a lot of stigma around this disease and people are afraid of it and something, something about these folks and the courage that they have to come and deal with it every week and be here and make the commitment to figure out how to cope with this part of their lives was extremely inspiring to me."
In fact, there are times aplenty when Finger finds herself studying at the feet of her group members.
"Whatever obstacles we face in our life, you just keep going," she said. "You just keep going; you march through it and you rally your troops and you find people who can accept you despite your challenges and your limitations and the mistakes that you make and hopefully, you can laugh about it. So, I'm learning that from them."
And no one in the room is a better teacher than Gockley.
"I'm aware (of my dementia)," he said, "I recognize that I have it; I admit that I have to work with it. And I'm appreciative of the fact that you're going to be telling our story, for so many times when I have encountered people and I tell them up front, you know, 'I have dementia,' they look at me like I'm some kind of a whacko and maybe just stepped out of a space ship.
"And I tell them I'm not insane, I just have some memory trouble."
Meanwhile, the number of people with Alzheimer's disease continues to skyrocket toward an estimated 16 million by 2050.
So AGE of Central Texas , the non-profit group partnering with St. David's Foundation to create the Early Memory Loss Support programs is hoping to expand to other parts of town. That will require plenty of volunteers and Finger promises plenty of reward for those who step forward.
Winter is invading Texas with a vengeance as snow, sleet and ice are unleashed on much of northern and western sections of the state.
The pastor of the Austin church attended by the teacher who was killed Thursday in Benghazi remembered him as a spiritual friend dedicated to improving the lives of others.
With freezing temperatures pushing through the region, heating systems will likely be working overtime, which can bring rising energy bills.
Global civil rights icon Nelson Mandela, whose legacy is ending South African apartheid, has died.
A man convicted 21 years ago for engaging in ritual child abuse was released Thursday after the DA's office agreed the only physical evidence against him was faulty.
A sport-utility vehicle hit a Capitol Metro bus in a parking lot of Anderson Lane on Thursday, sending two people to the hospital.