A couple of years ago I was chatting with my Grandma and mid way through the conversation she invited me to sleepover if I needed a place to stay. This was incredibly kind of her, considering she had no idea who I was, why I was in her home, or why I was there so late at night.
My Grandma has Alzheimer’s.
I’ll always cherish that moment. I think it really demonstrates my Grandma’s good-natured heart and capacity for generosity. My Grandma was never one to make a fuss. (I think I’ve inherited that from her – neither of us like conflict.) As a result, even at her most confused state, she would invite a total stranger to stay in her home.
My Grandma is now in a long-term care facility. I was actually at my Grandma’s house that night to make sure she didn’t hurt herself or run away or something while my dad and his brothers discussed moving her to a home. It was a really difficult decision for them. I hope to never have to make that decision with my brother over either of my parents.
I do take comfort in the fact that I’m not alone. On Jan 25, I went to the Carleton University field house to take part in the Walk for Memories event, a fundraising effort for the Alzheimer’s Society of Ottawa. The walk saw over 600 participants and raised $258,000.
The predominant message I took away from the event and hearing people’s stories was that Alzheimer’s affects everyone.
As Michelle Miller, a U Ottawa student said, “It’s not just the patient but the family. It’s important for us to know about it at this age because we’re the future… I watched my parents taking care of their parents.”
Harvey Pritchett, director of operations for the society, explained to me that since the patient will often reach a point where they just go with the flow, it becomes the family members’ responsibility to know everything. Seeing as the disease currently has no cure, the focus of the Alzheimer’s Society is to provide support, resources and information for the families.
“Caregiving involves hours and hours of unpaid labour. Of course they don’t see it as labour, they do it out of love. But it is very laborious,” said Pritchett.
The focus on families is not to say that the patient is ignored. Chris Hepburn, executive director at Moments Manor in Orleans, explained how they focus on getting rid of the hospital feel at the home, while also trying to ensure the patients have a special moment every day.
“Because we might have had a great moment yesterday, but today it’s forgotten,” said Hepburn.
Of course it’s a difficult balance to care for our loved ones while also remembering to care for ourselves. The Walk for Memories event was a picture of that. Everyone was upbeat and having a great time, but it felt like there was a sadness lurking under the surface.
There’s no doubt that it’s a tragic disease. Eventually I will lose my Grandma to Alzheimer’s. But in a sense, I feel as though I’ve already lost her. I can only hope that through fundraisers like Walk for Memories, more awareness will be cultivated, more dollars will be raised, and more research will be conducted, and lives will be saved.
If you’d like more information on the services provided by the Alzheimer’s Society of Ottawa, you can check out their website at www.alzheimerottawa.ca.