Calgarian reflects on the struggles of caring for parents with the disease

“It’s quite devastating when you know that the person that you have grown up with and known who they are is not that same person anymore.”

Janet Arnold sits with her mom, Wilda, in her apartment at the Walden Heights Supportive Living Community in Calgary. Wilda, 86, has Alzheimer’s, a neurological disease that has affected both of Arnold parents.

Janet and Wilda sit on the edge of the well-made bed, in a clean room decorated with photos of family.

Produced by Joel Dryden

Wilda’s disease has changed her personality almost completely, so living at Walden Heights and receiving full care became a necessity. Wilda has lived at the supportive living community since it opened in Spring 2012.

Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia with no cure. It is a degenerative disease that destroys brain cells, causing symptoms such as:

• loss of memory
• problems with communicating
• mood swings

An estimated 500,000 people in Canada have the disease.

While Janet and her family no longer provide caregiver support to Wilda, they still worry about ensuring their loved one gets the support and care she needs.

Wilda’s Alzheimer’s is still developing, but before her husband Bob died of Alzheimer’s in 2006, there was almost no quality of life.

Before Alzheimer’s, Wilda and Bob Arnold were very active and ambitious.

Photo courtesy of Janet Arnold 

It’s a hard process to watch, Janet says, watching strong parents with ambition (Bob and Wilda travelled the world in Seadreamer, a boat they built themselves) develop the disease and change forever, unable to communicate or remember sometimes even the most basic details and concepts.

“It’s hard, because there are things I would still like to talk to her and learn about,” Janet, 52, says. “Those memories are all gone.”

Janet works as an access advisor with Accessibility Services at Mount Royal University. She and other family members try visiting Wilda as often as possible to make sure routine remains in Wilda’s life — such as Saturday mornings, when Wilda always goes for a haircut.

Despite the change, Janet says that their relationship has changed. On good days, the Arnold family still appreciates Wilda’s good charm and sense of humour.

Such a moment becomes evident when Wilda begins to describe the struggles of living with her disease.

“You can hate it, or hate it,” she begins, before Janet reassures her.

“But we don’t have to hate it, do we?” Janet says, grabbing Wilda’s hand. “We’re here, right?”

“That’s right, we’re here, and we’re here.” Wilda nods, before looking up at Janet and smiling. “And look at how smart you are.”

Janet says what helped their family through the hard times was a connection to friends and support groups, like the Alzheimers Society of Calgary, which recently promoted Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

“We’re a connector, so we can connect anybody in dealing with issues of Alzheimer’s disease — contact our office and we can connect you to the resources you need,” said Barb Ferguson, the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Society of Calgary.

Nearly 12,000 people live with dementia in Calgary alone.

jdryden@cjournal.ca 

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