Madeleine Honeyman dislikes being called a “senior,” even though last January 6 a century had elapsed since her birth. She doesn’t mind being old; she just dislikes the limits that labels impose. She was close to 70 when she was instrumental in the creation of the Alzheimer Society of Ottawa. The following year, Madeleine co-founded the Alzheimer Society of Ontario, and served as its first President.
When her husband Ken was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1971, doctors told her that there was nothing she could do, that he should be in a psychiatric hospital and that he would die within five years.
Nobody knew much about dementia in the 70’s. Yet as she searched for ways to help Ken, Madeleine found hundreds of people like herself. When she and a couple of other people held a public information meeting about Alzheimer’s disease in 1980, they expected a small group. Over 100 people came, but only 25 would give their names because they were so ashamed that this terrible disease was in their family.
She saw the desperate need for day programs that would stimulate the minds of people with dementia and give their caregivers much-needed respite. “People with dementia have an illness, but we had to work hard to convince people that they had not lost all their marbles,” Madeleine says. “We started a small program ourselves and finally got money for a pilot project. It took a while for everyone, including caregivers, to trust us, but we were finally so successful that ongoing funding was established.” Alzheimer’s Day Away programs are now a model of care for people with dementia.
Another of the Society’s first goals was to change the rules around the Power of Attorney. If a man was identified with any kind of mental incapacity in those days, Madeleine explains, all bank accounts were frozen, even if they were joint accounts. “The woman had no access to the family money because it was considered to be her husband’s,” Madeleine says. Within a year of bringing this issue to the attention of the provincial government, the law was changed.
Despite these great accomplishments, she is most proud of her mission to change the feeling about people with Alzheimer’s disease and old age itself.
“It seemed ridiculous that the day you retired, you suddenly did not have a brain in your head,” she says. “Some old people even bought into that notion themselves.” Having passed a century, there is no doubt that Madeleine Honeyman has defied any restrictions that labels might confer.
The Alzheimer Society of Ontario encourages everyone to join in the conversation about Alzheimer’s disease. To learn more, please visit www.alzheimer.ca/letstalkaboutdementia
Director of Fund Development and Marketing
The Alzheimer Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer
The Alzheimer Society of Ontario