June and Larry
June’s disease began to show symptoms at about fifty two years old. She was an intelligent, highly independent, resourceful career oriented woman. Everything she did she strived for perfection, highly disciplined, organized and an all-around athlete. (Won the Calgary City Championship in Racquetball) She did everything right… didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, ate exceedingly healthy (gave the rest of us lectures for eating hamburgers and hot dogs) and did crossword puzzles all her life. There is no history of dementia in her family…. She just got plain unlucky. June’ doctor was a family friend; June had curled with her, but she was reluctant to acknowledge the disease. My daughter tried for three years to convince her there was something seriously wrong. Doctors see their patients for a short appointment and the Alzheimer’s patients get really clever at hiding the disease. Most people have the impression Alzheimer’s is just a forgetful disease, myself included. When she first started having trouble I thought, no problem, she is with me and I can be her memory. This disease is both mentally and physically disabling. After struggling for twelve years, by the time June passed away (June 3, 2014) she could no longer walk or talk and had been confined to a wheelchair for a year. This Early Onset disease is a particularly crippling disease because if affects the whole family. You lose a bread winner and partner but you also inherit a childlike person who needs fulltime babysitting. In the meantime you have to work to support your partner and finish raising a family. They are particularly hard to handle because they have been independent, maybe even a supervisor, and now have the mental capability of a three or four year old. They are still convinced they are completely capable even though they can no longer dress, feed, operate TVs, microwaves, phones or vehicles. They are also, in some cases, highly indignant about home care workers in the home or going to Adult Day Care Programs. We were lucky with June, because of her highly independent nature, she was placed in the Centennial Centre at Ponoka and spent many productive hours building bird houses and kitchen stools in the woodworking shop. They have the facilities to keep the Early Onset type patients occupied instead of just sitting in a chair or getting into trouble out of boredom and frustration. We need more facilities of this calibre. The staff are excellent caring people. Eight staff from the Centennial Centre in Ponoka travelled to Red Deer to attend June’s funeral service. Two of them spoke and read the 23rd Psalm.