My father-in-law has Alzheimer’s, a disease I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. In the nine years since he’s been diagnosed, I’ve watched as one by one his hobbies and abilities have been robbed from him. His body is still tall and strong, but his mind has been eaten away by this heartbreaking disease. So that he can no longer play baseball, or go bowling, or play cards, or play online games. Until the only thing that was left was sitting on the couch watching TV, or sitting on the front porch watching the world.
Then we had to take even that away. See, Ron would wander. He would go for walks around the neighbourhood, picking up bits of garbage and carefully bringing them home. Everything from leaves and twigs to broken jewellery and a stray sheet of someone’s French homework. Carefully lined up on the front room coffee table.
We worried that one day he wouldn’t find his way back home. Or that he would get hit by a car, since he had become oblivious concepts like traffic lights. So for his own safety, we had to move him to a retirement home. One with a secured dementia unit.
He hated it there at first. He just wanted to go home. He wanted out.
He made getting in the elevator and making a break for it his one and only goal. He managed to get outside several times. On multiple occasions, we received an emergency phone call and had to rush over and try and convince him to go back inside. He was labelled a flight risk. He couldn’t go on any of the bus trips or excursions because they worried he’d try and make a break for it.
Aside from Alzheimer’s, my father-in-law is a big, strong, healthy guy. He’s over six feet tall, and in good shape from all those years of playing sports. I certainly wouldn’t be able to persuade him to do anything he didn’t want to.
We took him out for the occasional doctor’s appointment or special dinner, but each time we worried about getting him to agree to go back inside at the end.
He wanted out. But he was stuck in.
Throughout all of this, the Alzheimer Society was a huge help. They talked to us on the phone. They even came out to my house to chat with my mother-in-law and I. Helping us understand ways to interact and deal with my father-in-law.
You see, we have a difficult time communicating because he has lost the ability to speak.
One of the biggest things I have learned during this process is that Alzheimer’s is nothing like the picture I had built up in my head from years of televisions and movies. It’s not just looking at people and not being able to recognize them, or being trapped in memories of the past.
For my father-in-law, it means not being able to speak. It means not being able to find the words. It means trying to talk and having all of the wrong words come out, or nothing at all.
He’s in there. He just can’t get the words out. You can see it all in his eyes. His body language. He gets so frustrated. So sad. So angry. So defeated. My heart breaks for him over and over again.
One of the best things that happened this year is that we were able to get Ron into the Alzheimer’s “Day Away” program. They come and pick him up on the bus and bring him to the local Alzheimer’s Society for a day full of activities which are, as the one coordinator described to us, designed to tire him out both mentally and physically. He’s in a small group with a lot of one on one attention.
He loves it. Going to that program for one day a week has made a huge change in his outlook. I think it’s satiated his need to get OUT. He’s stopped trying to escape. He is no longer labelled a flight risk. And he has something he looks forward to.
So, for that, and so many other things, I am eternally grateful to the Alzheimer Society.
And now it’s time to pay it back a little.
See, once a year the Alzheimer Society of Toronto hosts this big fundraising event, the Walk for Memories:
- The Alzheimer Society of Toronto’s Walk for Memories is Canada’s largest life-changing fundraising experience for Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Every year thousands of Walkers come together and challenge themselves to walk and raise vital funds for Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias
It’s coming up on February 3rd, and I’m going to take part this year.
My mom, myself and my eldest daughter are travelling to Toronto to take part in this years Walk for Memories.
If you’re thinking about that February weather, I’ve got good news. The walk is entirely indoors. It’s set up as a big loop on the underground path, which starts and ends at the Sheraton Centre Hotel.
It’s a super family friendly event. There is even a family sleepover kick-off party the night before the big walk. The slumber party, which sounds like tons of fun, is taking place at the Sheraton. If you are taking part in the Walk for Memories you can book a room at the Sheraton Centre Hotel and get in on the pre-party fun (family pizza dinner, arts and crafts, games, and a special storytime).
As an incentive to help encourage people in their fundraising, families that manage to raise $1000 in donations will receive an invitation to the slumber party, and a hotel room at the Sheraton that night, for free.
If you’re in the GTA, I challenge you to take part in this year’s walk and to raise some donations for this cause that is near and dear to my heart.
When: February 3, 2018
8:30 am to 12:00 pm
Where: Sheraton Centre Hotel
123 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5H 2M9
Or if you can’t make it out in person, I implore you to consider donating to my fundraising page.
This one’s really important to me. Thanks for your support guys.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto. As always my words and opinions are my own.