Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s a challenge
As much as those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease need help, those who care for them need assistance and support, too.
That was Helene Cone’s message during her talk, “A Caregiver’s Story: My Experience with Dementia,” last Tuesday afternoon at the Super 8 Motel here—an event co-facilitated by the local Alzheimer Society and Rainycrest Family Council.
The couple was married in 1998, with Russell finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2003. Though looking back, Cone now can see many of the warning signs.
She said it started with forgetting to pick her up or misplacing things.
“It just didn’t click,” Cone admitted. “I just thought it was getting a little forgetful.”
But things escalated to the point where he was locking things up and they would have to cut the locks in many cases to retrieve items.
“When I asked him why he was locking things, he said because people were stealing his stuff,” she recalled, adding that nothing was being stolen; he simply couldn’t remember where he had put things.
Cone noted his mood also changed.
“He was always a gentle person, very even-keeled,” she recalled, indicating that he soon became very angry. For instance, he got mad at their two-year-old grandson because he was being noisy.
“And I would get mad at him for the way he was acting,” she admitted. “I didn’t recognize it as a symptom of the illness.”
The one incident that really raised the flag for Cone was when she received a call from his bank in the U.S. saying he was significantly overdrawn.
When she looked into it, she discovered her husband had paid the same bills over and over.
“We had credits everywhere but no money in the bank,” she explained. “That’s when I knew there was a problem.”
She immediately took over the finances, but allowed him to write some cheques so as not to take everything away from him.
“I learned to be more patient,” she added.
Her husband now is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and has lost his ability to speak.
“I have full-time help,” she noted. “There is help out there. Let them help.”
Cone initially had tried to do it all on her own. “But I couldn’t,” she conceded.
She eventually sought help and is very grateful for all the assistance she has received from the Canadian Mental Health Association’s District Mental Health Services for Older Adults Programs and the Kenora-Rainy River District Alzheimer Society.
She said the support groups have been especially helpful.
“For me, it’s been a tremendous help,” she remarked. “I can vent, share, and you can’t always do that with family.”
Cone knows some family and friends fall away because they just don’t know how to handle it.
“People need to talk about it [the disease],” she stressed. “It’s so important for people to share their stories because there’s such a stigma attached to it.”
Cone said learning about the disease really helped, too.
“Once he was diagnosed, I thought he was going to stop doing things tomorrow,” she noted. “But it’s taken 10 years to get to where we are today.
“Sometimes I truly think why us?” she admitted. “But we don’t have a choice.”
With the help Cone receives from family and additional support, she plans to keep her husband in their home as long as she can.
“Sometimes it’s hard. Every day is a challenge,” she said. “But I love my husband.”
Eleanor Barron, the local Alzheimer Society’s “First Link” and public education co-ordinator, said Cone was very brave to share such a personal story.
“I think it puts a real human face to the disease and to the job of the caregiver,” she reasoned.
She’s also hopeful Cone’s talk helps to reduce the stigma of the disease, and helps other people feel they can come forward and share with their friends in order to get the support they need.
With January being Alzheimer Awareness Month, Barron also highlighted the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease at last Tuesday’s gathering.
•memory loss that affects day-to-day abilities;
•difficulty performing familiar tasks;
•problems with language;
•disorientation in time and space;
•problems with abstract thinking;
•changes in mood and behaviour;
•changes in personality; and
•loss of initiative.
“While we all do these things from time to time, such as misplacing your keys or forgetting a word, it’s only a problem if it’s happening frequently,” Barron explained.
She added early diagnosis is key in order to receive proper treatment, information, and support.
For more information, visit www.alzheimerkrr.com