George and Patti
We’re George and Patti from Regina, Saskatchewan. We officially began our journey with the Alzheimer Society when George was diagnosed with dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease, in June of 2015. I had my suspicions for at least two years before the formal diagnosis, but our lives changed immediately the day we received it. George was 69 at the time.
We have five married children all located in the same city, so within two or three weeks of receiving the diagnosis, we called a family meeting to tell them. There was, of course, some shock and sadness but also a great deal of support and offers of assistance.
A diagnosis of dementia brings its challenges. We used to work as a team as a married couple, but now all aspects of our life are my responsibility. With the diagnosis, George was told that he should no longer drive. This was both a relief and a hardship for me: a relief because he had been making some poor judgements while driving, and a hardship because I was now the principal driver and the one who had to keep track of the gas gauge, oil changes and other maintenance. Quite quickly into the disease, George was unable to remember PIN numbers, so all banking and bill paying falls on me now. I must keep track of and accompany him to his appointments because he won’t remember what he was told. It seems travelling is no longer viable for us as any change in his environment is very confusing for George.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is that I have lost my soul mate. It’s very difficult to have any kind of conversation. It’s hard to see the disease take more and more parts of George away from me and from our children and grandchildren. He’s not the husband, father and grandfather that he used to be. But we are living with the disease one day at a time and coping as best we can.
After George was diagnosed, I went to the Alzheimer Society website to get more information and found out about their Learning Series. The series was very helpful and the last session introduced us to support groups for both George and I. George enjoyed the support group for individuals with dementia in the early stages for about two years, but when he couldn’t understand anymore what he was going to or why, we decided he should stop attending. However, I continue to go to the caregiver group and find it very helpful and therapeutic. It’s a safe place where you can vent, laugh or cry. Everyone understands and may have suggestions on how to cope with what you are dealing with at the time. Attending the support groups also helped us learn about Minds in Motion.
Minds in Motion is a program for the person with dementia and a partner, which includes about 45 minutes of exercise followed by an hour of brain health and social activities. This has been a great program for us, and we have taken part in every session since it started here in Regina. I particularly enjoy the exercise and it seems that George enjoys the social aspect which brings him out of his shell. Unfortunately, George’s dementia has progressed and, as he now attends a Day Program three days a week, we will not be able to take part in Minds in Motion in the Fall.
George still seems to enjoy going out for visits or having people at our home. He sits very quietly because it’s difficult for him to follow a conversation with more than one person, but at the end of the visit he always comments that it was a nice. We’re very grateful that, for the most part, he seems happy and content.
This is certainly not the way George and I had envisioned our retirement years, however, feeling sorry for oneself or being envious of other retired couples is not helpful. I think it helps to be accepting of our new normal and not try to fight it. The support we receive from our children and siblings, accepting that this disease is not going to get any easier and knowing it’s okay to ask for help is also important.
And so, life goes on. I try to live each day with an attitude of gratitude because I have much to be thankful for. My faith in God helps me through each day. I’m surrounded by love and support. Each night George still kisses me good night and tells me he loves me. I cherish that.
All of us who are on this dementia journey with parents, spouses or friends are so fortunate to have the Alzheimer Society only a phone call away to offer help or just to listen.
Here are my tips to help you understand:
- Be open about a family member having dementia. It only adds stress to try and hide it.
- As a caregiver, don’t be too proud to ask for help. You must be healthy to look after your loved one with dementia.
- Seek out the Alzheimer Society in your community and join a Support Group.
- Keep routine in your life.
- Encourage your community to be dementia friendly so that there is more understanding for those struggling with confusion.
Kenn and Ronda