Everyone who has had a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease knows how devastating, unforgiving and cruel it can be.
One of them is CKNW talk show host Lynda Steele.
She lost her mother, Thelma, to it in October.
Over the past few months, she has talked with others who experienced the same pain.
Together, they share how families can cope. These are their stories.
“He actually died on my mom’s birthday, Aug. 31. It was, you know — you have to find humour in everything but my mom said, ‘Well, he sure ruined my birthday.’ And I said, ‘He sure did, mom. I think he did it on purpose.’ He wanted to make sure that we remembered him.”
Her parents were married for 57 years.
Her mother has dementia as well, and she says it’s been a few really bad years.
“But out of some really bad hard stuff always comes joy, always comes inspiration. It’s just life, and if my parents taught me anything, (it’s that) you throw your shoulders back, you don’t complain, and you move forward. And you do it with humour. There’s a lot of laughs around here. I mean, when you find the remote in the dog food crunchy bag… There’s just things that happen all the time that are hilarious and that’s the one thing that I think really keeps me going, Lynda.”
LISTEN: Lynda Steele and Jann Arden talk about losing a parent to Alzheimer’s
Alan Beamer lives in Michigan and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago.
He made a video to tell his friends he’s still the same person and still wants them to come see him.
The Alzheimer Society of BC launched a campaign last month called #becomeafriend.
It’s to encourage people to not be afraid, to reach out because that person who is suffering needs you more than ever.
Even just having a cup of coffee or going for a drive.
That person is still there.
READ MORE: Reinventing home care with dementia villages
Coping with the changes
George Garrett brought you the news on CKNW for more than 40 years.
His wife, Joan, has Alzheimer’s.
Like Lynda with her mom, he says his wife would stop and ask, whose house were they in? Who lives here? Whose car is that?
He said his wife would tell him her parents were coming to visit.
They’d died many years ago.
After a while, instead of correcting her, he would say: ‘Maybe tomorrow.’
Lynda: “It’s such a weird disease. Dad was telling me one time, he came home and he saw Mom looking in the mirror. And she was just staring at herself with a funny look on her face. And he said, ‘What are you doing?’ And she said, ‘Who is that? Who is this person? There’s someone strange in the house.’ And Dad said, ‘That’s you, Thelma.'”
George: “I had an identical situation. My wife drew an X on the mirror in the bathroom with a bar of soap. And then she said, ‘Get that woman out of here. She spits at me and she hits me.’ And I was told by my advisors on care that that’s a common thing, when the person with Alzheimer’s looks in the mirror, they see themselves as they were years ago, not as they look now.”
Lynda: “So they don’t recognize themselves.”
George: “No. So we had a friend of mine and his wife cover my mirrors with a black crepe for the longest time. And I had to lift the crepe to shave.”
George tried music, playing cards, family photos.
Eventually, both of them ended up taking their loved ones to respite care.
George: “I had to leave her and she walked right to the door with me, and I said, ‘I’d just like you to stay for tonight.’ That’s another lie, you know, we do creative lying just to ease their mind. I wanted her to stay four nights, really. She came right to the door, and I knew the code to get out, and I literally had to close the door in her face. I went home and I was so upset, I actually cried.”
Lynda: “We took Mom to respite once, before she fell and broke her hip last October. Mom was confused and we tried to prepare for it but she just didn’t really understand. We when she realized that they were going to leave her there, she started to cry. My sister-in-law sat on the bed with her and held her hand and just said, ‘Thelma, you’re not going home. You’re going to have to stay here because Dennis needs a break. And this is what has to happen.’ And Mom just cried and said, ‘I’m afraid, I can’t stay here.’ And I’m just dying, and I’m thinking, ‘Thank you, Diane, for being there. And Mom cried and she finally fell asleep, and the nurse said, ‘Go. Leave. Right now. I’ll handle it from here.’ And my Dad went home and he just cried.”
George says it’s not any easier when you decide to put your mother or your wife into a care home.
He would take her to lunch every day, and when he brought her back, would be afraid she wouldn’t want to go back in.
But after a few weeks, she did.
He says this had become her home.
And that was good.