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David Craig, former Harford County executive, diagnosed with dementia; he and family call for greater awareness of condition

David Craig — a former Harford County Executive, Havre de Grace Mayor, state legislator and state planning secretary — has been diagnosed with dementia, he and his family announced Monday. They are now calling on greater investment in medical research about the disease.

In an op-ed announcing his diagnosis, Craig noted nearly 6 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s or dementia and stressed the need for increased research into the disease. According to a report by the Alzheimer’s Association, identifying and accurately diagnosing the condition could save $7.9 trillion in medical and care costs, he wrote.

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“Despite this, for every dollar the federal government spends today on the costs of Alzheimer’s care, it invests less than a penny in research to find a cure,” he wrote. “We simply must do better.”

The disease’s progress has been slow, thankfully, in Craig, his daughter Pamela Craig said. He can still assemble a 1,000-piece puzzle over the course of two days, but his manner and appearance could change as the disease progresses, she said.

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Pamela Craig said she wanted to let Harford County and Havre de Grace residents know in advance. The town is a close-knit community, and conversations often spring up on the street as passersby recognize each other. Walking with her father, she said, is no exception.

“It is one of those things where if you are trying to walk to dinner and you have a reservation … you will often to be late," she said.

Because Craig’s family lives in the area and sees him often, Pamela Craig said it was easy to notice small changes in her father’s speech and actions. Still, the family wanted to let county residents know that Craig is still as approachable and open to conversation as ever.

“I will still cherish living in a town where people stop, say hello, and catch up,” Craig wrote in an op-ed announcing his diagnosis. “I am one of the lucky ones; I am catching this early; I still have happy days ahead.”

Craig served as the mayor of Havre de Grace from 1985 to 1989 and again from 2001 to 2005. Between 1991 and 1994, he served in Maryland’s House of Representatives, and as a state senator from 1995 until 1999. He was elected Harford’s county executive in 2005 and served until 2014.

“After devoting his career to public service, David Craig continues to serve the citizens of Harford County and Maryland by raising awareness about dementia," current Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who succeeded Craig, said in a statement.

“His personal courage and concern for others are an inspiration. Having recently lost a family member to this devastating condition, I will be working to raise funds for respite care for affected families,” Glassman said. "We also want David and his family to know that Harford County will keep them in our prayers.”

In his op-ed, Craig said his brother and parents suffered from the same condition. His family became aware of the diagnosis a year ago, but doctors had to conduct follow-up tests before offering an official opinion.

Even as someone who has seen the condition’s effects firsthand, Craig wrote that he did not notice some signs of his own. Typical symptoms include short-term memory loss, socially inappropriate behavior, confusion over time and place, and changes in mood or personality.

“It was easy for me to write these warning signs off as simply part of aging or being tired after a long career,” Craig wrote. “But, this should not be a normal part of aging. We all need to engage our doctors and loved ones when we see these early warning signs develop into more than a rare occurrence.”

Growing up, Pamela Craig said her father’s forbearance was especially notable. Her father’s parenting was gentle and compassionate, she recalled — listening carefully to his children, showing up to sporting events and keeping a calm demeanor. Craig previously worked as an assistant principal in middle schools across Harford County and coached soccer, she said, so he was practiced in dealing with adolescents.

“He parented with a look and the raise of an eyebrow, and that is all he needed to do,” his daughter said. “I do not think teenagers scared him.”

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The burning question now is what happens next.

Pamela Craig said the family is doing everything it can for her father, including treatment ensuring his safety in case he gets lost or loses his balance — an associated issue in many dementia patients.

Craig wrote that he will continue to remain active and volunteer where needed.

As a “history-buff,” his daughter said, he periodically helped local organizations like Havre de Grace’s Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House answer historical questions or directed them to relevant historical books. He will continue that help, she said.

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