"Maybe there was some denial and I thought she would take some medication and be fine," said Blanche Hughes. "I already had to do this once, I shouldn't have to do it again," she says, recounting having to care for her ailing parents, particularly her father, who also had dementia.
Regardless, Hughes dutifully brought Mitchell to her house in Colorado and took her to a neurologist for tests.
"It was remarkable," Blanche said. "I saw the MRI. I could just see the brain atrophy. We don't know why, but at her age to have that kind of brain atrophy, there is usually some kind of environmental reason or virus. But at 57 she just has severe dementia."
The neurologist believes Mitchell's brain actually began to decay several years ago but went undiagnosed.
After six months of caring for Mitchell, it became apparent to the Hugheses that she needed full-time care, so the family looked to her assets to pay what would surely be a hefty amount for a quality long-term care facility. That's when they began to see how much the disease had damaged Mitchell's life: She had lost her job, she was in debt and she was facing foreclosure. The Hugheses realized the economic burden, the bill for the $3,000-a-month room at the assisted-living facility, would fall to them.
"To find out she has financial problems — it's like 'Wait a minute!' She should be taking care of us financially," Wayne Hughes said jokingly.
When asked about Mitchell's biggest asset, Blanche Hughes answered without hesitation: "Her house. And she lost that."
Mitchell's story underscores just how vulnerable people with undiagnosed cases of early Alzheimer's can be.
It was her niece who made the shocking discovery that Mitchell had signed over her four-story Brooklyn brownstone for a fraction of its value.
"In New York, state property records are public," Dana Hughes said. When she became suspicious of a man her aunt spoke about, Dana says she did some digging. "I looked up the property record for this house and that's where I discovered that she had transferred the deed."
Mitchell and her former husband had bought the house nearly 20 years ago for $330,000. Its value has soared. The house next door sold recently for more than $2 million; a real estate agent two doors down says Mitchell's house would have fetched at least $1.5 million.
And who bought Mitchell's brownstone? A man named Mamun A. Mirza, whom her family believes she made contact with when she responded to an Internet ad from a subprime lender.
Instead of helping Mitchell get a loan through the mortgage company, Mirza apparently made his own deal. Documents obtained by "Nightline" indicate that Mitchell signed over her home to Mirza in exchange for him paying off her mortgage debt, which totaled roughly $200,000. The documents include a handwritten statement signed by Mitchell, along with papers indicating it was a "sale between relatives," signed by Janet and Mamun Mirza.
Mirza didn't want to discuss that transaction when approached by "Nightline." He said it was a legitimate transaction and denied knowing that Mitchell was a sick woman. "She wasn't sick at the time," Mirza said.
He also first denied submitting property documents indicating it was a deal between relatives, but later acknowledged doing so in what he claimed was a "filing error." He said his attorney "will fix that."