A friend of nearly 50 years is struggling with the care and complicated family dynamics of having a mother in her 90s, with advanced Alzheimer's, still living at home. Even with support, looking after her is mentally and physically exhausting. My friend shares Power of Attorney for Personal Care with another family member and cautions that, if practical, an odd number of people should share POA to avoid any painful and divisive deadlock.
Another friend's dementia is advancing rapidly and before long will require a significant life-style change. His wife is coping better than most, but is feeling the burden of being responsible for, well, virtually everything. She has to be constantly vigilant that he doesn't heat up a can of corned beef in the microwave or put the wrong password into the computer so many times they get locked out. Worse is when he misplaces something like his keys and, with dementia-driven paranoia, accuses her of stealing them.
His decline on gerontologist-administered cognition tests is striking and depressing. It used to be drawing the clock that defeated him. Now, he isn't sure where he is; what day, month or year it is; and shown pictures of a giraffe, rhinoceros and bear, the only animal he can identify is the bear.
Another friend and her husband moved into independent living in a private retirement residence; until his vascular dementia forced them to be separated - she remains in independent living and he has moved to the residence's secure memory care unit. "And really wants to die,” his wife says with immeasurable sadness.
Those three families, within my own close circle of friends, who are struggling with the harsh reality of dementia highlight for me the depth of the crisis more than any statistics. But stats there are.
In announcing Canada's first national strategy on dementia last June, the federal health minister spoke of the "significant and growing impact” of dementia in Canada: more than 419,000 Canadians aged 65 and older are living with dementia. As our population ages, that number will only increase.
I am happy to champion the work of Orléans' Resurrection Lutheran Church (RLC) and its efforts to make a difference. Since January 2018, it has operated an Adult Day Program in its spacious Gaultois Avenue church. I was reminded of their work by Sig Sigurdson, an active member of their congregation, who let me know that a fundraising Oktoberfest Dinner raised $3,000.
I had first written about the program in April of 2018 and am impressed that the congregation, with the support of Carefor Health and Community Services, has been able to keep their program going without significant government funding, although their lobbying efforts continue.
I have written about memory care services offered at some local private retirement residences, but adult day programs fill an essential need in the continuum from a diagnosis of dementia to the need for specialized care within a controlled environment. All three of my friends living with dementia have taken advantage of a day program at some point in their journey.
The RLC program can host 14 clients each week and has 23 people on its waiting list.
"It is an essential resource in Orléans, which is underserviced compared to the rest of Ottawa,” explains Carol Fairbrother, chair of RLC's church council. "The waitlist for this program, and the two other English programs in Orléans extend for several months.”
These programs provide social, recreational and personal support services to their participants and offer vital respite for caregivers, explains Beth Monaco, Carefor program manager. "The demand for dementia care services is increasing steadily.”
That is why it is so important that a community group, like the RLC congregation, steps up and selflessly keeps its program operating through fundraising, donations and volunteering. The church receives no compensation for running the program.
Community support is essential to the success of their fundraising.
Kudos to the about 50 people who attended the Oktoberfest event and the local businesses who supported it. Among them, Orléans Fruit Farm donated apple cider for the event and Money Advisors covered the cost of the sausages. Mastermind Toys and Vezina Opticians were among the businesses which donated prizes for the evening's raffle. Bridge 21 Duplicate club lent the church tables and chairs.
Looking after our most vulnerable is a team effort.