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What’s love got to do with Alzheimer’s? A lot

What’s love got to do with Alzheimer’s? A lot

By Alex Westman

Mr. and Mrs. Alex and Donna Westman

My wife Donna and I met when we were just teenagers—she was 18, I was 16. Despite our youth, we understood early on that we had a deep connection. It was an amazing thing, really, and still is. There was magic in her and she saw something in me. I had a reputation as a bit of a scrapper, but she soon took care of that.

These days, I’m almost respectable. I’m a three-term municipal councillor in the Township of Lucan Biddulph, Ontario, and a 30-year veteran of the fire department. She made me who I am, and all these years later, Donna is still the love of my life.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to know that the love we share is the armour we wear when things get tough. And in 2009, things got really tough.

Mr. and Mrs. Alex and Donna Westman

That was the year she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 47. I remember sitting beside her in the chair in the doctor’s office. I looked at her, and she looked at me, and I said, “we’ll get through this together.” And we have.

We’ve had help, of course. Donna’s sister Gale and our daughter Sara-Beth have been nothing short of amazing; their love for Donna shines through in everything they do for her.

My point, as I’m sure you are beginning to see, is that you can’t do this without love. This disease is big. It has teeth, and horns and claws. If we didn’t have love, this disease would destroy us both.

Now I don’t want you to think I live in some fantasy land. We’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve gone to marriage counselling. There were times we didn’t particularly like each other. But we always loved each other and we always knew we wanted to make it work.

Mr. and Mrs. Alex and Donna Westman

I remember vividly the spring following Donna’s diagnosis when we planted forget-me-not flowers in her garden. The garden has always been a special place where she tended to each plant as if it were the only one. The year before, we had planted daffodils for my parents who died of cancer. This spring, we wanted forget-me-nots for Donna.

When we finished, we stood back to admire our work. She put her head on my shoulder and I said, “It’s OK, sweetie. I’ll remember our life together for both of us.”

Mr. and Mrs. Alex and Donna Westman

Dementia under 65: Where do they fit in?

Dementia under 65: Where do they fit in?

It was love at first sight when Sandy met Doug. They had both ended long marriages. They shared a passion for work, a love of travel, and had compatible plans for retirement. They clicked instantly.

The McLean’s married two years later and were in the midst of living the lives they’d dreamed of when Doug, a top executive, lost his job because of increased anxiety and diminishing cognitive abilities.

Things didn’t get better. Doug became depressed and delusional. He could no longer tell time or do math, and he struggled with his memory.

sandy-mclean2So they began looking for answers. Over the next three years, Doug and Sandy went to doctor after doctor without a definitive diagnosis. It wasn’t until a second neurological test that Doug was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia and immediately put on the right medications. Finally, his symptoms were manageable and the McLean’s were able to fulfill some of their travel dreams.

At 60, Doug is fit and physically active, and is keen to continue life to the fullest. Being active is good for him, but it’s a challenge for Sandy. Doug needs safe, non-judgmental environments, and many activity programs for people with dementia are for seniors 65 and older. Doug doesn’t feel like he fits in.

Sandy is his 24/7 caregiver and advocate. She makes sure Doug keeps busy and plans all of his activities. But that doesn’t leave much time for herself. And, that dream of moving into a house they built outside of their city has been gently let go.

The Alzheimer Society of Manitoba has been a lifeline for Sandy and Doug, offering activities, resources and support services. But we can do so much more.

Donate today so that we can better support caregivers like Sandy and fund vital research to eliminate this disease and its impact on Canadians like Doug. Because it’s not just their disease. It’s ours too. #InItforAlz

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