Central Alberta resident Terry Rudge knows first-hand the pain of watching a loved one battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
January marked Alzheimer Awareness Month, but of course building awareness and reaching out to help those affected is a year-long goal of the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
Rudge and his wife Jean moved to Red Deer from Manitoba to be closer to family.
“At this stage of the journey, Jean has been placed in The Hamlets,” he explained, referring to the city’s south-end facility. Jean, who was diagnosed in 2015, also tends to wander at this stage, and of course this becomes a safety issue as well, he added. “She wouldn’t know how to get back home if she went off somewhere.”
These days, Terry takes Jean for outings, including their son’s home for Sunday dinners.
“The other thing is that her memory is disappearing. If you think of it as being maybe three boxes – the box that contains all the recent things – that one is gone,” he explained. “And a good part of the second box is gone, too. She very much lives in a time where she remembers family growing up.”
Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible and destroys brain cells, causing thinking ability and memory to deteriorate, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.
Other types include young onset dementia, vascular dementia, mixed dementia, frontotemporal dementia and Lewy body dementia.
“When I go in to visit, at this stage she is becoming less verbal. Visits tends to be somewhat one-sided as far as discussion goes,” he said. “When I think back to prior to being diagnosed, we were a team. We talked over things and made decisions together, and so on. We would have long discussions about politics. Now, there is very little speech, or very quiet speech. When you get to this stage, you have trouble retrieving the words that you want to say,” he explained.
Outwardly, people wouldn’t know there was anything wrong.
“If you were to see us walking at Bower mall, there is no indication there is anything wrong with her.”
As mentioned, Jean was diagnosed in 2015.
But in looking back, Terry recalls seeing signs that something was amiss. “She was misplacing keys. Every time we would go out, there would be discussion about, ‘Where are my glasses, where are my keys?’ Things got worse and worse. At the beginning, you try to cope with things and say, ‘Okay, we are going to always hang the keys up on the rack by the back door’. Then, eventually she would forget where the little place was to hang the keys.”
For Terry, helping others to better understand the disease is certainly something he would like to address.
“People may think there is mental illness there. They may think, ‘Well, my dad used to forget things and it’s just old age’. But it’s more than old age. And for a lot of people, they find it uncomfortable to talk about. Their friend has been diagnosed, and now it’s, ‘What do I do? What do I say?’ There is a tendency for some people to just kind of fade away.
“They are no longer around because they don’t know how to talk about it,” he said. “That doesn’t really help at all, because you need to have communication. So that makes it hard – a lot of people you encounter just don’t know what to say,” he added. “So they don’t say anything.”
But the reality is, as Terry pointed out, this is a generation (the ‘Baby Boomers’) that will likely see unprecedented numbers of dementia cases.
“I’m 75 and my wife is 74. We are getting to the point where these kinds of things happen to us,” he explained. “More and more people are being diagnosed.”
These days, Terry volunteers with the local chapter of the Alzheimer Society.
“When we came here to Alberta to be closer to our family, one of the first things I did was to drive down to the Society office with my wife. I walked in and said, We are looking for some help.”
Terry is also thankful for the solid family support he has, and the ongoing support from the Society.
“One of the first things I got involved with was a support group,” he said. “We meet once a month and we talk. Sometimes we have a speaker, but for the most part it’s talking with one another and having someone to talk to who is already involved in this journey,” he said.
“Within the group, there are people at the beginning of the journey, and there are those whose spouses have passed away but they still come and get support from the group.
“It helps a lot. The other thing that helps me is that I get try to get the message out…so that hopefully I can deliver something to somebody that makes it easier for them to be on this journey. On Fridays, I go to the Collicutt Centre and I volunteer with a group called Memory Trekkers.”
Folks with dementia attend with their caregivers, or if they don’t have a caregiver, that’s where the volunteers step in. There is a bit of chatting and exercise involved, and a coffee.
“That helps to get the message out and when someone may come up and ask what we are doing, I can talk to them about dementia, too.”
In Stettler, the Alzheimer/Dementia Drop-in Care Partner Support Group meets the second Wednesday of the month from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at the Stettler Family & Community Support Services office (4720 – 50th St.)
For more information about the support group, call 403-342-0448 ext. 1.