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Category: Awareness

Racing for memories

Racing for memories

Recently, my family has joined the unfortunate ranks of those who have been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. My mom started showing early signs of the disease a few years ago, and it has slowly and stubbornly progressed ever since. The toll that Alzheimer’s is taking on my mom is obvious and devastating. Less obvious, but just as significant, is the impact it is having on my dad. As my mom’s primary caregiver, it’s been said that my dad must ride the world’s tallest, fastest and scariest emotional roller coaster each and every day. Sadly, in my observation, this is absolutely true.

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Hope in the face of Alzheimer’s

Hope in the face of Alzheimer’s

One might think that having a disease with no cure wouldn’t leave a person with much hope to draw on. The truth is, if you’d asked me how I felt about the future after I was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, my answer would have been far from ‘hopeful.’ Then, one day, that changed.

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Getting a dementia diagnosis – where do you start?

Getting a dementia diagnosis – where do you start?

It can start with something simple, like having trouble following your favourite recipe, or putting your car keys in the fridge. Maybe you’ve noticed small changes in your memory that are affecting how you do things day-to-day.

If you can’t quite remember things that should be straightforward for you, or if you notice changes in your mood or ability to communicate, make an appointment to see your family doctor right away.

Diagnosing dementia is a complex and difficult process. The first thing your doctor will do is try to rule out if it’s a treatable condition, like depression or even an infection.

By finding out what is causing your symptoms, you can get the right kind of care, support and access to treatments as early as possible.

Be prepared to start the conversation with your doctor:

  • Take the time to review the 10 warning signs of dementia. This is important because dementia is not a normal part of aging, nor is memory loss the only symptom.
  • Jot down the signs you’ve been noticing in yourself. When did these start? Have they changed over time? This information will keep your conversation focused.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Ask your doctor if your symptoms could be caused by another health condition.
  • Be sure to let him or her know about your medical history, including any medications you’re currently taking.
  • Ask your doctor to explain what tests you’ll need and how long these will take.
  • Will you need to see a specialist or a series of specialists? How will you need to prepare for these visits?

For more tips on getting ready for your doctor’s visit, download our Getting a diagnosis toolkit. It offers a whole list of questions to ask as well as detailed information about the warning signs and what you can expect during the diagnosis process.

And, if you’re concerned about someone else, we encourage you to pass our toolkit along.


Getting an early diagnosis helps you and your family take control of the situation, plan for future and live as well as possible with dementia. Learn more about the benefits of an early diagnosis

Power of Attorney: Planning for the future

Power of Attorney: Planning for the future

Follow us, as Elizabeth Murray tells the moving story of her mother’s battle with dementia. In this blog series, Murray explores every part of the experience of caring for someone with dementia, sharing her memories and insights from it all. Her words serve as a great reminder of the many ways dementia affects our lives, and the lives of our loved ones.

Two months before she was diagnosed with dementia, my mother and I were reviewing her bankbooks at her kitchen table.

She had received a letter from her financial advisor informing her about something that had occurred with one of her Registered Retirement Investment Funds. Her understanding was that one of the semi-annual payments she ordinarily received had been withheld and that any request she made for the money would be denied. A telephone conversation with her advisor had left her frustrated and confused.

She was relieved when I offered to talk to him on her behalf. He was even more relieved to accept my call.

He told me that the regular payments from my mother’s RRIFs had been made as usual. The issue was that she hadn’t cashed a cheque for a capital payment that she had also requested. After six months, the cheque had been cancelled and the money had been deposited into her account. Further steps had to be taken to ensure that she didn’t pay income tax on the money she hadn’t received. My mother didn’t understand the problem and she wasn’t prepared to give the financial advisor the instructions he needed to solve it.

Unfortunately, my mother had never signed a Power of Attorney for Property. As a result, I didn’t legally have the authority to tell her financial advisor to take the required action, even though it was obviously in her best interests.

A Power of Attorney for Property is a legal document that gives someone else the power to manage your money and property on your behalf. A Power of Attorney for Personal Care is a legal gives someone the power to manage medical and personal care decisions. It can specifically provide that the person(s) you appoint maintains their power if, later in life, you are unable to make important decisions by yourself.

My mother had never wanted to think about a time when she would need help to manage her financial affairs. While it is a difficult decision to make, by choosing your Powers of Attorney early in life, you can rest easy feeling prepared for the future.

It is especially important that someone with dementia has Powers of Attorney to help make decisions when they are unable to do so. At the Alzheimer Society of Ontario, you can find many resources to help you prepare for the future at www.alzsuperhero.ca

 

Written by:

Writer Elizabeth Murray
Elizabeth Murray
Retired lawyer and the author of Holding on to Mamie:  My Mother, Dementia and Me.
For more information about Elizabeth and her story visit www.holdingontomamie.ca.

CarePartners has taken action for dementia!

CarePartners has taken action for dementia!

With over 200,000 people in Ontario living with dementia today, we need an Ontario dementia strategy to make sure that our communities receive the support they need. The Alzheimer Society of Ontario has led the movement to have a fully-funded dementia strategy included in the Ontario government’s 2017 budget, and we are now awaiting the upcoming announcement of the budget.

In support of our initiative, CarePartners has generously donated not only financially, but their time as well, to help build awareness and promote the importance of an Ontario Dementia Strategy. With their exceptional support, we have been able to increase awareness amongst policy makers and influencers and the need for a strategy to be included in this year’s budget.

The partnership between CarePartners and the Alzheimer Society of Ontario began with the shared value of great care for people living with dementia. CarePartners explains,

“CarePartners is committed to providing quality care for patients with a dementia diagnosis living in the community and to providing support for their families. Our partnership with the ASO (Alzheimer Society of Ontario) provides our health professionals with education and access to resources; both of these contribute greatly to ensuring that the care our staff provides is always skilled, compassionate and built on proven best practices.”
-Brittany Robins, CarePartners

To have an Ontario Dementia Strategy will be integral to help support partnerships like this, which help to make sure that people with dementia receive the best care possible.

Thanks to supporters like CarePartners, we have been able to raise awareness about the need for a dementia strategy to many members of parliament, but we need to make sure that a fully-funded strategy is incorporated in the government’s budget. Be sure to write to your MPP today and tell them that we need a fully-funded dementia strategy!

For more information about CarePartners and the services they offer, visit their website at www.carepartners.ca

Driving with Dementia

Driving with Dementia

Follow us, as Elizabeth Murray tells the moving story of her mother’s battle with dementia. In this blog series, Murray explores every part of the experience of caring for someone with dementia, sharing her memories and insights from it all. Her words serve as a great reminder of the many ways dementia affects our lives, and the lives of our loved ones.”

Driving had always been an important part of my mother’s life. She loved to tell stories about her adventures as a young woman chauffeuring friends from her home in Campbellford to Peterborough, Ontario to watch the Petes play hockey, or taking a carload of women to Buffalo, New York, to shop.

After she was married, my father’s poor eyesight meant that my mother was the main driver in the household and her ability to drive assumed an even greater significance.

My mother was devastated when her doctor notified the Department of Motor Vehicles that she had dementia.  After her driver’s license was suspended, she refused to attend social gatherings and resented that she needed me to take her grocery shopping or to the drugstore.  Ordinary tasks became an ordeal for both of us. She soon became obsessed with the notion that her doctor had acted in bad faith by reporting her illness and she was determined to have her license reinstated.

One day, she told me that she would be able to drive again if she passed a standard road test. I knew that information wasn’t accurate but I agreed to take her to a Driver Licensing office for the test.

When we arrived, I sat at the back of the room and waited while my mother approached the front counter.  A clerk typed information into a computer and then gently shook her head.  She explained that there was a detailed process my mother would have to follow if she wanted to get her driver’s license back.

“But the doctor was just acting out of spite,” my mother protested.

By the next day, my mother was furious with me. According to her, just as the clerk was about to return her driver’s license, I held up a sign declaring that she had dementia. The clerk saw the sign and immediately withdrew the license. I was stunned.

At the time, I didn’t understand that driving a vehicle meant more to my mother than a way to maintain her independence. The ability to drive was an integral part of her identity and losing her license was another way that dementia was affecting the life she had long known.

People with dementia should be allowed to drive for as long as possible but when their ability is impeded and they pose a risk to themselves or others their license must be suspended. Contact your local Alzheimer Society to learn how you can support your loved one through this significant life change and help them stay connected with their community.

Written by:

Writer Elizabeth Murray
Elizabeth Murray
Retired lawyer and the author of Holding on to Mamie:  My Mother, Dementia and Me.
For more information about Elizabeth and her story visit www.holdingontomamie.ca.

Missing the Signs

Missing the Signs

Follow us, as Elizabeth Murray tells the moving story of her mother’s battle with dementia. In this blog series, Murray explores every part of the experience of caring for someone with dementia, sharing her memories and insights from it all. Her words serve as a great reminder of the many ways dementia affects our lives, and the lives of our loved ones.”

25,000 Canadians are diagnosed with dementia each year yet families often dismiss its symptoms as part of the natural process of aging.

My mother began showing signs of dementia six years before she was diagnosed but the disease crept up on her, hiding behind normal behaviour.  She had always been a little suspicious, slow to acknowledge her flaws. And gradually those traits became more pronounced.

“Why do you want to know?” she would reply to questions about where she had been or what she had been doing.

“Everybody forgets things sometimes,” was her usual response to an unusual memory lapse.

In those years, I was battling cancer.  I didn’t want to contemplate the possibility that my mother might be facing her own difficult battle.

After her diagnosis, I felt overwhelmingly guilty for not recognizing her disease sooner.  I remembered the times I had been impatient with my mother’s strange ideas; the hurt in her eyes when I was frustrated with her forgetfulness. I berated myself for my lack of empathy.

When my mother forgot to attend Grandparents Day at my son’s school – an annual event they both cherished – I had been furious. All I could think about were the tears that were surely rolling down my son’s cheeks when she failed to arrive.  I didn’t consider how she must have felt when I pointed out her mistake.

Preoccupation with my own health was my excuse for not confronting my mother’s disease but everyone has something in their life that makes it easy to miss the signs that a loved one might have dementia.

I’ve learned to forgive myself for my sometimes-willful blindness to my mother’s symptoms but perhaps if I had been better informed about dementia some of the heartache my mother and I endured could have been avoided.

Alzheimer Societies provide valuable support to families in need but sharing our experiences with the disease can also help to raise awareness – and may make someone else’s journey a little easier. For information and resources on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, you can visit the Alzheimer Society of Ontario’s website.

Written by:

Writer Elizabeth Murray
Elizabeth Murray
Retired lawyer and the author of Holding on to Mamie:  My Mother, Dementia and Me.
For more information about Elizabeth and her story visit www.holdingontomamie.ca.

Staying Connected and Living With Dementia

Staying Connected and Living With Dementia

Follow us, as Elizabeth Murray tells the moving story of her mother’s battle with dementia. In this blog series, Murray explores every part of the experience of caring for someone with dementia, sharing her memories and insights from it all. Her words serve as a great reminder of the many ways dementia affects our lives, and the lives of our loved ones.

My mother was embarrassed when she was diagnosed with dementia.  Rather than tell her friends about her illness, she stopped meeting them for lunch or coffee and declined their invitations to concerts and other gatherings. As her disease progressed, she became angry and paranoid. She withdrew from the church group that she had belonged to for over thirty years and refused to attend my son’s hockey games, school concerts and swimming lessons as she had always done.

My friend’s mother, Mrs. McEwan, was also diagnosed with dementia but she wasn’t embarrassed by her diagnosis nor did her symptoms include anger and paranoia. With the help of her friends, Mrs. McEwan continued to attend her book club and ladies auxiliary even when she was no longer able to fully participate in the meetings. She and her husband went to the symphony and the ballet and they joined organized tours to avoid the potential confusion of independent travel.

Over time, her memory gradually declined, until she was dependent on others to help her complete simple tasks. Despite this, she was always cheerful and she accepted her disease and the limitations it imposed with grace.

My mother and Mrs. McEwan had dramatically different experiences when they were living with dementia. Mrs. McEwan’s psychological well-being was fostered by staying connected with her community and participating in activities that she had always enjoyed. She had a positive attitude about her life, despite her limitations.  My mother resented her illness. She cut herself off from her friends and family, and felt isolated, lonely and depressed.

We can all play a role in reducing the stigma of dementia and making the lives of people who have the disease as rich as Mrs. McEwan’s. Educating ourselves about the symptoms and learning how to offer appropriate assistance will help people with dementia feel supported in our communities.  By fostering environments of inclusion in organizations, clubs and faith groups, as well as in common spaces like the library, coffee shop or grocery store, we can create environments that encourage their independence.

Together, we can work to create communities that are dementia-friendly and help everyone who is diagnosed live the quality of life they deserve. To learn more about how you can help contribute to a dementia-friendly community, contact your local Alzheimer Society.

Written by:

Writer Elizabeth Murray
Elizabeth Murray
Retired lawyer and the author of Holding on to Mamie:  My Mother, Dementia and Me.
For more information about Elizabeth and her story visit www.holdingontomamie.ca.

Forgetting an Unforgettable Recipe: Mamie’s Butterscotch Raisin Cookies

Forgetting an Unforgettable Recipe: Mamie’s Butterscotch Raisin Cookies

Follow us, as Elizabeth Murray tells the moving story of her mother’s battle with dementia. In this blog series, Murray explores every part of the experience of caring for someone with dementia, sharing her memories and insights from it all. Her words serve as a great reminder of the many ways dementia affects our lives, and the lives of our loved ones.”

When I was growing up, my mother’s raisin cookies were a family favourite and making them was a regular Saturday afternoon mother-daughter event.

Instead of adding whole raisins to the butterscotch-flavoured dough, my mother used an old-fashioned meat grinder to mince the fruit. I would turn the handle on the grinder as she fed raisins into the mouth of the machine.  We would take turns stirring the thick batter and sing Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man, as we patted the dough into a log.  When the cookies were in the oven, we would sit at the kitchen table and sip milky tea while we waited for the timer to chime.

Shortly before my mother was diagnosed with dementia, I asked her for the cookie recipe.  Her forehead wrinkled.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Elizabeth,” my mother snapped when I described the cookies, and how we used to make them, for the third time.

I was surprised and hurt that my mother didn’t have any recollection of the special times we had shared baking raisin cookies.  Although I dismissed her lapse of memory as “nothing to worry about”, the incident lingered at the back of my mind.

Sometime later, my mother’s geriatric clinician explained that forgetting the details of a significant event is part of the normal aging process, but forgetting the event ever happened is likely a symptom of something more serious.  I finally realized that my mother’s failure to remember our baking sessions was a symptom of her disease and not a sign that she hadn’t enjoyed our time together.

My mother’s loss of memory often left me confused and frustrated.  Looking back on my experience, I know that I would have been better equipped to deal with her symptoms if I had been familiar with the differences between age-associated memory impairment and dementia.

Not every memory lapse is a cause for concern but if you have questions about a loved one’s memory, you should consult your local Alzheimer Society for more information about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Written by:

Writer Elizabeth Murray
Elizabeth Murray
Retired lawyer and the author of Holding on to Mamie:  My Mother, Dementia and Me.
For more information about Elizabeth and her story visit www.holdingontomamie.ca.