When dealing with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, help is available if you know where to get it. All you have to do is reach out to the Alzheimer Society.
"That's my message," said Pat Paterson from Tillsonburg. "If there's a diagnosis, get to the Alzheimer's (Society) immediately because the help you get is invaluable."
"If you have a diagnosis, don't try to do this on your own," said Shelley Green, Executive Director, Alzheimer Society of Oxford. "For Pat, she utilized all of the services that we had available and we encourage families to do that. That's why we're here.
"We know that making that first step is often times the most difficult," Green added.
"It is," Paterson agreed, who learned about dementia after her husband George was diagnosed.
"Once you've taken the first step, I think people realize how welcoming our staff are, and how capable they are, and it just sets them at ease to be able to use more and more of our services."
Paterson, who walked in the Tillsonburg Walk for Alzheimer's fundraiser two years ago, and knitted therapeutic hand muffs to help people with dementia, also shared her story at Alzheimer functions.
"I just felt, if I could do something to help someone else by sharing my story, I would like to do that. Because I feel like I want to give back, for what I was given."
"Pat was our speaker at a couple of our (Coffee Break) luncheons this past fall and she did a beautiful job sharing with our volunteers her experience through her and her husband's journey with dementia," said Green.
"I told them about the journey I had with the Alzheimer's," said Paterson, "and how grateful I was for the programs I could be involved in to learn more about dementia... because I didn't know anything about it."
Paterson was grateful for the support, knowing she wasn't alone. And she was especially grateful for the Ambiguous Loss and Grief in Dementia learning series, an Alzheimer Society resource for individuals and families designed primarily for caregivers, helping them gain a better understanding of how loss and grief can affect them and the person with dementia, and providing information to help people with dementia deal with their own losses and grief.
"The person's still here, but they're not here," said Paterson, explaining ambiguous loss.
"Also the losses of role and other losses you're experiencing along the journey," said Green. "Loss of insight, loss of companionship..."
"Just things what we used to do," Paterson nodded. "And his personality changed. He just denied flatly that he had dementia. So that was hard to cope with for me because I couldn't make him understand the things that I was learning. As far as he was concerned he didn't have dementia. He thought it was just 'old age', it happens to everybody. He told me I'd be like him in five years."
George lived with dementia four years after his diagnosis.
"But when I think back, and know now what I didn't know then, I'd say he had it for about six years," said Pat.
"They did the test and both of us denied, we didn't think it was possible. Sometimes he was himself and then he wasn't, and it was confusing."
As the months went on, it got worse. But Pat connected with the Alzheimer Society and learned about dementia.
"That made me realize that what the doctor said was correct... things were falling into place. I went to quite a few sessions. Whatever was offered, I was there."
"That's a great message, to encourage people to take advantage of what we have," said Green.
"You have to," Pat nodded.
"That's a strong message Pat," said Green, "because so many people delay making the phone, or never make the phone call, and they don't experience the difference that can make in their lives."
"I didn't know anything about it," said Pat, "and because he was in denial and I was kind of denying it, I could have just let it go. But I thought no, 'there's something not right here.' So I got in touch with the Alzheimer's, I joined a group they had. We met once a month so I could learn what other people were experiencing. It kind of helped me, getting ideas from other people as to how to cope."