Keith Harvey was a typical carefree husband. His wife Mary gave up her career when they got married and looked after the household chores. Keith’s role was to make ‘important decisions.’ He quotes Gordie Howe to put what this meant in perspective: “I was in charge of making all the important decisions, but I haven’t made one this whole time.”
But Keith’s arrangement changed drastically in 2007. “I began to notice something was wrong with Mary,” he says. “At first, it was little things like forgetting a friend’s name. But one day, she was unable to sign her passport. I knew something was seriously amiss.” Keith took her to a specialist where Mary was eventually diagnosed with Lewy-Body dementia.
Like many male caregivers, Keith experienced a baptism by fire. A man who had never done a load of laundry was suddenly responsible for managing the household and caring for his wife. Keith also resolved to maintain their current lifestyle of winters in Florida and summers at the cottage.
Fortunately, Keith has a strong support network. Family members help him with his new household tasks and Mary attends the Meadowvale day Program at the Alzheimer Society of Peel while Keith goes to a caregiver support group. The group is a vital lifeline for him.
“It’s a steep learning curve for a lot of men. We learn to improvise and get by. I order in food a lot and cut corners while cleaning. My wife would be horrified by the current state of the house.”
The real challenge, however, is the emotional toll of caregiving. “I feel so helpless in the face of my wife’s condition,” he admits. “All I can do is watch her deteriorate. And as much as I want her by my side at home, I know eventually she will need to live in a long-term care facility.”
For the time being, Keith continues to manage a household and support his wife. Despite being totally unprepared, Keith has not just learned to cope. He has given Mary the best possible life he could.
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