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Shiver of Dread

Dear Hannah,

My wife is 69 years old, I am 73 years old. When she started forgetting things last Fall I felt a shiver of dread. Her mother had developed Alzheimer’s in her early 60’s. My worst fears have been realized; she has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She is very anxious since the diagnosis, and I am falling apart—it seems like such a heavy burden. Where should I begin?

Dear “Shiver of Dread”,

You and your wife are facing a daunting challenge and the media is exasperating the issue with screeching headlines about “the tsunami of dementia” which is contributing to your wife’s anxiety and your dread. At the moment you are feeling helpless and out of control, you and she are in a panic.

These emotions will probably evolve to anger—why me, why now—this too will subside. The final emotional stage is acceptance. Dementia proceeds at a slow pace. You and your wife have the time to inform yourselves of the nature of the disease, its symptoms and the resulting changes of behaviour. Your physician will be of great assistance in explaining the process of the disease. Information is power. As the shock wears off, routine will be established in your lives. Given information and guidance you will regain your sense of control. You both can create a long-term plan for the journey ahead. At every step, you and she can decide on the various alternatives (part-time care giver, home improvements, assistance at home, security, change of residence).

I suggest that you and your wife immediately request a peer counsellor from JSA. The counsellor will refer you and your wife to the proper organizations, government services and resources which will help to calm the situation and to provide an informed framework of medical, psychological and family assistance and support.

I strongly recommend that you both see the movies “Still Mine”, “Away from Her” and “Quartet.” Dementia can be approached from a kind, loving place; our society will have to accommodate and care for those who suffer from the disease and those who care for them