Awhile ago someone said to me, “Tim you’re a true Champion for the Alzheimer’s community.” In truth, I am merely the voice for my wife Shirley. After many years as a caregiver herself, she now faces Alzheimer’s disease. She is the real champion and this is her story, not mine.
In 2005, I first noticed my 61 year-old wife Shirley was struggling with a volunteer position as a treasurer for a small ladies group. She had always handled our personal and business finances over the years. Suddenly, she couldn’t handle this small account. I approached our doctor, but he was little help, patting her on the hand and telling her everything was okay.
As a clinician with over 40 years experience in Emergency Medicine, I knew the doctor’s response wasn’t good enough. I sought answers, speaking to anyone who would listen and even calling in favors from my coworkers. Soon I suspected that her memory loss was due to lack of blood supply to the brain.
But no one acted until we moved to Elliot Lake Ontario. Shirley had great difficulty with the move and this really concerned me. Finally, we met a new physician. After expressing my concerns, he immediately referred Shirley to a gerontologist, who made the diagnosis within two hours.
Our world changed forever. We were devastated, mostly because of our own lack of knowledge and a mental image of “On Golden Pond.” But we agreed that neither disease nor other people’s prejudice were going to dictate who we were. This disease is commonly known as the caregiver’s disease and I soon learned why. It affects us both, and the only way forward was together as “Team Masson.”
In February 2013, we were asked to be profiled in local newspaper. I saw an opportunity to present a new face of Alzheimer’s disease. People had to see this was not just a disease of the very old, but affected people who were just entering their autumn years. We wanted to break this stigma that only those severely affected with Alzheimer’s actually had the disease.
The article was a massive success. Not only did it bring this horrid disease up front and centre within the community, but it also allowed others to see how it affected the young at heart too.
After receiving training from the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Society, researching and asking a lot of questions, I realized how much change was needed both in my community and across the county. We needed more long–term care beds and staff, more staff to assist the caregivers with home care, better training for our medical staff, emergency responders and caregivers and better education for society. Wait-times for a long-term bed in this area is two years. That is unacceptable.
We joined the Champion Program to try to bring change to both this community and all of society. We can no longer afford to pass the buck and let it fall on someone else’s lap. We have known for many years we were going to reach a breaking point as baby boomers retired yet nothing was done. Now we stand on the edge of a human disaster.
In February of this year, we met with Mr. Mike Mantha, MPP for this area, who listened to all we said. He has promised to take our concerns to the Minister of Health and see what can be done to assist those affected by this disease. We believe not only will it take serious commitment by government and society, but it must be done now.
At our caregiver and our mild memory loss support meetings, I encourage everyone to get involved. We need the community to get behind and support us as we work for changes that are needed. To do that, we need more champions who are willing to stand up and raise their voice.
As I said before, I am merely my wife’s voice and she is the real champion. I am a simple man watching the woman, whom I have loved from the moment I laid my eyes on her, slowly fade away into a person I don’t know and who doesn’t know me. I can only hope we have built up our relationship enough over the years that she will consider me a person of trust, and allow me to take care of her as she has for so long done for me.
Learn more about our Champion for Dementia program.
Champion for dementia