Ten years ago, Jess Dreyer was a wife and mother with a high profile job in human resources. She had a busy schedule and a lot going on in her life. When she started to forget meetings, she wrote it off as stress. But then one night while driving home from work, she became confused and lost. After what seemed like hours of driving around trying to find her way home, Jess Dreyer came across the first familiar building, a hospital, and went inside.

“The doctors tried to tell me I had amnesia,” said Jess Dreyer, now 58. “I told them if this is amnesia, then I’ve had it for a while.”

After many tests, what Jess Dreyer did have at the age of 48 was early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“After she was diagnosed, my family began researching on our own about this disease, and we had trouble finding information,” said Jess’ son James Dreyer, who earned his BA in communication in 2003 from the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “I was shocked because, like most people, I associated the disease with the elderly and not something my young mother would get. I wanted information from a family’s prospective.”

James Dreyer, who works in video production for the City of St. Charles, Mo., decided creating awareness about Alzheimer’s and early onset of the disease was something he needed to do, and he could use his skills as a documentary filmmaker to give the disease a face to tell his family’s story.

While conducting research for his film through the Alzheimer’s Association’s St. Louis chapter,  he discovered Tracy Mobley, who at the age of 36 was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“I did a little research and found that Mobley and her family lived in Alzheimer’s Association–St. Louis Chapter,” he said. “I wanted her to be a part of this film and to share her experience.”

James Dreyer met with Mobley and her family, and she agreed to do the film, “Tracy & Jess : Living with Early Onset Alzheimer’s.” The 50-minute documentary consists of interviews journaling Tracy and Jess’ life after diagnoses. A screening of the film will begin at 6 p.m. June 9 in the lounge in Bellerive Hall on the South Campus at UMSL. A reception will begin at 5 p.m. The screening is free and open to the public.

It’s presented by the UMSL Alumni Association, School of Social Work, Gerontology Graduate Program and the Social Work Alumni Advisory Board.

Dreyer said he’s excited about holding a screening of his film at UMSL and is grateful to the support he’s received from the university’s faculty, especially Tom Meuser, director of the Gerontology Program.

After making this film, he realized how amazing both his mother and Tracy are.

“These are women who could have just given up and become reclusive,” he said. “But they didn’t; they both stay active, spreading awareness. My mother, through her art, and Tracy, through her writing, continue to help and inspire people.”

Jess Dreyer said her son is the one who is amazing. At 33, he could be self-consumed and think only of himself, but he’s not, she said.

“I’m exceptionally proud of him,” Jess said. “I’m glad he’s compassionate about bringing awareness to this disease and about sharing our stories with others.”

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Jen Hatton

Jen Hatton