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Graham volunteers for experience and to give back

Graham volunteers for experience and to give back

Why do I volunteer?

I volunteer with the Alzheimer Society of Ontario because I want to contribute to the strength of the education and services that the Society provides for Ontarians with dementia and their caregivers. The rise of dementia in our community, its economic impact and its impact on quality of life is a major health care issue. Like many Ontarians, the impact of dementia has affected my family.

What is my background?

As a clinical researcher of cognitive decline, I have met many older adults suffering from cognitive trouble or dementia and have observed its impact on their life and their caregivers. My research aims to better understand the science of cognitive decline and how it may lead to dementia in later life. However, any benefits of my research likely wouldn’t be realized for many years.

What is my impact?

Volunteering with the Alzheimer Society of Ontario allows me to contribute to the management of dementia in the community now. Together, with the public policy and program initiatives team, I am helping to identify key areas of overlap between the strengths of the Society and the needs within the Ontario strategy for dementia care.

Why should you volunteer?

If dementia has had an impact on someone’s life and they would like to join the fight, the Alzheimer Society is an excellent organization to volunteer with. There is a great diversity of opportunities with a wide range of required involvement. And most importantly, the Alzheimer Society is fully committed to improving care and education for those with dementia and their caregivers.

Learn more about volunteering and how to volunteer at the Alzheimer Society.

Graham-photo2Graham Mazereeuw

Volunteer, Alzheimer Society of Ontario

Walk for Memories profile: meet Wendy and Larry Smith

Walk for Memories profile: meet Wendy and Larry Smith

Meet Wendy and Larry Smith. They have been volunteering for the Alzheimer Society’s Walk for Memories in Ottawa since its inception 19 years ago.  Like the Walk, Wendy and Larry have experienced a number of changes during that period of time.

In the beginning, Wendy worked for an Ottawa-based Chartered Accounting firm, Collins Barrow Ottawa LLP, which had encouraged its employees to get involved in the community. The Alzheimer Society was one of a number of organizations that Collins Barrow supported.  Employees and family members alike from the organisation became involved with this great cause.  This was the start of the Smiths ongoing history of volunteering for the Alzheimer Society.

Little did they know that Alzheimer’s disease would touch close to home some years later!

In 1995, the Walk for Memories was based at the Carlingwood Mall.  It was a great place to begin an activity that combined exercise with a good cause. Max Keeping, a local broadcast legend, was an infectious spirit who would lead the bagpiper round the Mall with the walkers following in their footsteps on a quest to raise money for this worthy cause.  In recent years, the Walk for Memories was relocated to its present- day location of Carleton University’s Field House.

Throughout its history, the Walk provided an opportunity for the Smiths and others to gather together as a united front to support this worthy cause. However, it wasn’t long until the annual walk became more meaningful for the Smiths when it was revealed that Wendy’s aunt and Larry’s father were both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  While volunteering as a registration pair, it gave them an opportunity to talk to individuals walking for their loved ones who had succumbed to this dreaded disease.  Year after year, they would recognize the walkers, share stories, measure progress against their own loved ones as Alzheimer’s continued to mark progress on the unsuspecting prey.  Collectively, they believed that by participating in the annual Walk they were making a difference in the fight against this debilitating disease.

Although their loved ones have passed on and the goal of a cure has not yet been realized, the Smiths remain committed to supporting the annual Walk for Memories.  Each year, the end of January calls for a renewed commitment to continue the fight against this disease.

Although the faces of past walkers fade away, new faces pick up and the battle continues towards better treatment and – hopefully – a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

To find a Walk near you, sign up to Walk or support a Walker, visit the Walk website.

larry-smithLarry and Wendy Smith

Walk for Memories Walkers

Art program for people with dementia

Art program for people with dementia

Do you remember the wonder you felt as a child creating your first work of art? It could have been the gooey touch of finger paint or the surprise of creating something out of nothing after pasting a collage.

Many lose those feelings over time. That’s why it is so wonderful to hear about the success of the Gather at the Gallery program at the Alzheimer Society of Kitchener-Waterloo.

The program allows persons living with dementia to rediscover a love of art through both discussing and creating art. It is the brainchild of Cara Dowhaniuk, Dementia Support Counsellor at AS  Kitchener-Waterloo.  The landmark art program at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for people with dementia called Meet me at MOMO  was her inspiration.

Cara launched Gather at the Gallery in 2011 with the help of a one-year grant from the Kitchener-Waterloo Communication Foundation. She also developed guidelines and brought together 10 galleries and museums to participate. One of the first was the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery. 

“People with dementia come with their caregivers for a tour to explore the art. There’s also time to get social with coffee followed by hands-on creation of an art piece,” Cara tells me.

It might have been a long time since participants got their hands into clay or picked up a brush. That’s why the key to the program’s success is a flexible format that can be sensitive to their needs in the moment

“Staff and volunteers really go out of their way to make it a personal one-on-one experience, which empowers people,” she says.

Research

In the first year, Gather at the Gallery had the benefit of research* conducted by Postdoctoral Fellow Lisa Mechino, who earned a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. She is so optimistic about the findings because she witnessed people flourish when discovering abilities and other hidden aspects of themselves.

“Prior to coming many were apprehensive, she says.  “There was resistance due to uncertainty. But the creative process broke through the apathy, disconnection and isolation.  The program revitalized their relationships, gave them hope for the future and a sense of empowerment.”

Success Stories

Participants love the program. Fifty-four people have completed the two 10-week sessions since it started.

“Some people think dementia is a death sentence,” says Lisa. “I’ve seen them completely turn around after attending.”

Cara and Lisa remember one participant who said he felt his life was over when he was diagnosed. Because of the program’s supportive community, his creativity started to flourish and he became more confident and hopeful.

Another couple became advocates for living a meaningful life. After the season was over, they formed a peer-led social club. “They have a sense of hope. Life isn’t over. There is a lot here that can be done,” Lisa comments.

Gather at the Gallery has a waiting list for the future and to be sustainable, additional funding is needed. If you want to make a donation to this wonderful program, please contact Cara Dowhaniuk at cdowhaniuk@alzheimerkw.com

* Funding for the Gather at the Gallery research was made possible by the Alzheimer Society Research Program.

karen-mccaulKaren McCall

Volunteer Blogger

Keith Harvey–carefree husband to caregiver

Keith Harvey–carefree husband to caregiver

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.

Keith Harvey is a spokesperson for the Finding Your Way Program. Watch his video to learn more about his story.

What challenges do you think male or female caregivers face? Share your experiences below.

Visit our website to read more stories of hope.

thumbnailRyan MacKellar

Marketing and Communications

The Alzheimer Society of Ontario

AS Windsor-Essex needs 12 companion program volunteers

AS Windsor-Essex needs 12 companion program volunteers

Chelsea-volunteer-companionHave you ever wondered what it would be like to be a companion to a person with Alzheimer’s disease?

Volunteering can be a wonderful experience. Just ask Chelsea McCloy, a companion volunteer for the Alzheimer Society of Windsor-Essex County.  One of her favorite people in the world is Janet Noble; Chelsea has come to know Janet very well since she volunteered as her companion two years ago.

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ASO founder Madeleine Honeymoon–100 years young and going strong

ASO founder Madeleine Honeymoon–100 years young and going strong

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.

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