Awareness month gives local group a chance to
connect with community
Imagine filming a person’s development from infanthood — they learn to roll over, walk, talk, add and subtract, and problem-solve. Eventually she becomes an adult, who takes on many responsibilities such as a job and a family.
Now press rewind and then you can begin to understand the unraveling of the brain that many deal with when suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
The incurable degenerative disease is the most common form of dementia, a broad term used to describe the loss of brain cells, yet for the most part, symptoms are often brushed aside or viewed as old age.
A recent online survey of baby boomers across Canada conducted by the Alzheimer Society revealed a troubling lack of awareness about the disease, but most concerning was the fact that respondents were unfamiliar with controllable risk factors associated with the disease like obesity, heart disease and chronic depression.
Warfield resident Yvonne Golley attributed her husband’s forgetfulness to his drinking problem, a battle she struggled with for about 30 years.
It wasn’t until he had a stroke and doctors discovered he had dementia that she wondered whether he was suffering from the disease the whole time or whether binge drinking had killed his brain cells.
“I put everything down to his alcohol problem, I never figured that it had anything to do with dementia,” she said from her Warfield home Thursday.
While Alzheimer’s is fatal, one-third of dementia cases can be cleared if proper treatment is received. But this isn’t the case for Golley’s 90-year-old husband, Gordon Merriot.
He now lives at Columbia View Lodge and after a second stroke, has lost his sight and hearing and is in a wheelchair.
He still doesn’t know where he lives or his age, and he wonders why his daughter from West Vancouver doesn’t drop in for coffee more often.
“It’s like a switch went off,” she said. “He was never abusive, not physically, but he could sure hit my buttons. He’s now the nicest person on earth and he’s just wonderful and can’t remember any of the bad times.”
His perception of reality is blended with slightly distorted memories from the past – bragging about flying ladies across the U.S. border for some shopping, for instance. But while he worked as a steel metal worker for an airline and always dreamt of becoming a pilot, he never did because he was colour blind.
“He’s funny, always has been, and he just keeps the staff in stitches,” said Golley.
While there are humorous moments when dealing with a loved one who has almost traveled back to a different point in his life, at times it can be frustrating for family members.
Golley has learned to cope with her husband’s disease by attending the local support group’s monthly meetings hosted by co-facilitators John Marko and Lou Kratky.
Their mission is not only to provide advice and strength to individuals but to spread awareness about the disease. During this Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, the local facilitators are hoping their public presence will encourage others to take advantage of the support system offered in Trail.
Early signs of Alzheimer’s include the inability to acquire new memories, such as difficulty in recalling recent facts. When this is detected, the diagnosis is usually confirmed with behavioral assessments and cognitive tests.
When the disease advances, other symptoms include confusion, irritability and aggression, mood swings, language breakdown, long-term memory loss and a general withdrawal of the sufferer as their senses decline.
Gradually bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death.
“It kills the personality before it kills the person,” said Marko, who has been involved in the local Alzheimer’s support community since he first heard about the disease in 1975.
It was shortly after that he helped form the local group and the special unit at Columbia View Lodge, where he later worked.
At 65, his memory is deteriorating and he often wonders whether he, too, has Alzheimer’s but the forgetfulness he experiences is quite different, he said, noting that someone with the disease might look for her car in a parking lot after a day of shopping though she took the bus, or pick up a key and try to write with it.
Through a thick loud of confusion, people suffering from Alzheimer’s have moments of clarity, but this often makes it more difficult for the family, who view the times with hope.
“It’s like a cylinder that’s all ground up, every once in a while it fires,” explained Marko.
As their life-long memories continue to unravel from most recent to early development, so do their ties to family members and their ability to recognize wives, husbands, daughters and sons.
The local Alzheimer’s group will be at Waneta Plaza next week from Thursday to Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to offer advice or a sounding board.
The group meets on the second Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Trail United Church. Their next meeting is on Feb. 9.
For more information, contact Marko at 368-6603.