Living with Dementia
Pictured above (L to R): Lois Wozney with her sister Mary-Jane and her mother Maxine just prior to Maxine's diagnosis
"I was with my mother at the doctor’s office as he sat down with us and said those fateful words to her: “Your tests show you have symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s-type dementia.”
I will never forget the fear in my mother's eyes that day. She could only stare at me, as though trying to fix me permanently in her mind, saying, "there will be a time when I won't know who you are."
We sat together and cried. I didn’t know what to do, but I hugged her and told her “It’s a disease, that’s all. We’ll look after you.”
So began my mother’s 18-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease.
My mother Maxine developed a fierce independence after my parents divorced. She entered the workforce and commenced a 25-year civil service career, saving every penny she could and planning her retirement so she would never be a burden to her four children. She loved to travel, and to see the theatre, opera, the ballet, anything cultural.
Mom was just 61 when she began to show signs of dementia. She felt embarrassed and ashamed, and for a long time tried to hide her disease from us. I know she hated the thought of becoming dependent on anyone. Not long after her diagnosis she told me, “Never, ever give up your life for me! And please don’t put me in a care home. I want to stay here, at home.”
When Mom was first diagnosed, I honestly panicked. In our family, no one’s ever had a chronic illness. We used to joke we were from the deep end of the gene pool. How would I be able to help her? I was lost.
That’s when I found the Alzheimer Society of Calgary. I called one day – I didn’t even know what I was after, I just needed help – and I was put through right away to Janet, a social worker.
It was a lifeline. Janet truly listened to me, and knew exactly what I was going through. She was able to calm me down, talk me through what was going on, and provide connections and focused advice.
That support really helped keep me going, and I visited the Alzheimer Society of Calgary more than once – whenever I felt uncertain, alone or overwhelmed, or needed practical tools to be a better caregiver.
Every person’s journey with dementia is difficult, and my mother’s was no exception. By 67 she had lost the ability to talk. For two years she was very fearful and anxious all the time. I lived 3 hours away so Mom’s long-term partner, Keith, was her primary caregiver. With the help of wonderful friends he looked after her for a long time. As her needs increased I arranged in-home care during the day, then eventually full-time, 24-hour care. When we finally had to move her into a home, I cried all day with grief and guilt.
Mom was in a care home for five years and we did what we could to make her as comfortable as possible. On her 81st birthday, after celebrating with cake and singing, I knelt down and looked up into her face. For the first time in years she looked up, really saw me, and gave me an amazing smile for ten blessed seconds.
It was a gift of peace and love from her that I will never forget and will cherish forever. Mom passed away quietly just two months later.
I can’t imagine what my journey would have been like if the Alzheimer Society of Calgary hadn’t been there for me throughout. Because of them, we learned how to work through the tough things and make the most of each day. As difficult as it was, I feel blessed to have been with my mother on her journey with Alzheimer’s disease. I learned about the importance of true compassion. And to live every day as fully as you can!
I know that every day more and more people in our community are impacted by dementia.
Together, we can help them."