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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

Celebrating Mother’s Day when Mom has dementia

Celebrating Mother’s Day when Mom has dementia

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, the crunch is on to find that perfect gift to show your mom just how much she means to you. But what if your mom has dementia? Here are a few simple, engaging ways to show your mom how much you care—on Mother’s Day or any other day of the year.

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Etching memories in stone

Etching memories in stone

As CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Windsor-Essex County, I am constantly reminded of the impact of dementia on the person with the disease and the families who care for them and grieve when they pass away.

Sally and Ted Lindsay - Groundbreaking
Sally and former NHL player Ted Lindsay

I was so pleased in 2006 when our Society decided to create a granite Monument of Memories in beautiful Jackson Park for our 25th anniversary to remember all those in our community who have lived with dementia. We offered the opportunity to anyone in the community to have the names of friends and family engraved on the monument as a permanent memorial. We charge a fee for the engraving and funds raised from Monument of Memories stays in Windsor-Essex to support the current programs and services we offer to people living with dementia in our community.

The response has been incredible with the whole community rallying behind the effort. Local business, labour groups, media, former NHL player Ted Lindsay, whose sister had dementia,  and local families – all impacted by the disease – all contributed. Over 250 people attended our unveiling ceremony in 2008.

We do the engravings once a year and continue to have a demand for spots on the monument.

It’s important to remember and be remembered. While we don’t have a cure yet, the Monument of Memories allows us to remember those who have passed away, and look after people now living with dementia and their caregivers.

monument of memories back view-2

If you would like to have a name engraved on the Monument, visit our website.

SallyFinal1-e1390614737179-300x240Sally Bennett-Olczak

Chief Executive Officer

Alzheimer Society of Windsor-Essex

What I learned caring for Grandma

What I learned caring for Grandma

It is difficult to understand Alzheimer’s disease until you are living with someone who has it. For me it was when my Grandma got it. She had lived with us for my entire life, and played a huge role in my upbringing.

First it was the little things, simple tasks that we take for granted, such as preparing a meal. While I could deal with changes like that, the hardest part was accepting that someone who had always protected and cared for me had suddenly become someone I had to take care of.

For a long time, I wanted to ignore her struggles, hoping that if I closed my eyes to the changes happening right in front of me, I could prevent them from happening altogether. But I soon realized that with a progressive disease like Alzheimer’s, change was inevitable. Knowing that her condition would deteriorate gave me the strength to overcome my own fears and help her.

And helping care for her only brought us even closer. Although her behaviour changed, her identity remained and she was still a person like everyone else. While many of her memories were no longer accessible, I could still remember for her. And sometimes, she would remember too.

For many people, a serious disease like Alzheimer’s becomes an emotional fork in the road. You can choose to turn your back on someone or you can choose to embrace them.

It can be far too easy to turn our backs on those who are suffering, particularly for young people, who may consider themselves too far removed from the suffering of the elderly. However, it is important for young people to face the challenge and look on dealing with the disease as part of their own personal road to growth.

Caring for my grandma has helped give me amazing insight into the struggles of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and I truly hope I can use this knowledge to help others, both the patients themselves, and those who have yet to have any first-hand experience with the disease.

Want to share your story? Contact Ryan MacKellar (rmackellar@alzheimeront.org).

Andrea Shanmugarajah

Volunteer blogger