Caring for dementia patients made better with support

NANAIMO – Coffee break events help caregivers find information, network

There’s more than one way to lift spirits.

For 82‐year‐old Nanaimo resident Joan Mayzes, it’s as simple as lifting a coffee pot.

When Joan’s husband, Ken, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the mid‐1990s, it marked the beginning of her decade‐long journey as a caregiver.

It took time to come to terms with reality. At first, her four grown children weren’t quite sure what to make of their father’s condition.

“They didn’t think there was anything wrong with Ken, like we all do,” Joan says. “We all deny.”

But denial can only last so long and the symptoms became harder to ignore. Ken’s personality changed. The former carpet salesman would get frustrated, even angry. He didn’t like strangers in the house.

“Emotionally, [caregiving] is a 24‐hour‐a‐day job,” she says. “My husband would get up at night and want to eat. He just didn’t know the difference between day and night.”

Though her children helped a lot, Joan knew that she wouldn’t be able to be Ken’s primary caregiver forever. Worse yet, if Joan herself were to get sick or injured, they’d be in trouble.

After several years, the situation became untenable and the family knew it needed to move Ken into a full‐time care facility.

There, his physical abilities began to escape him, too.

“One day he fell down and they never got him up again,” Joan said. “He just forgot how to walk, so he was in a wheelchair or in bed for the last while. It was very difficult.”

More than 70,000 British Columbians live with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and in 2008 alone, B.C. caregivers provided an estimated 33.1 million hours of informal care. Most caregivers are family members – unpaid, untrained and underappreciated.

For help, many caregivers turn to Alzheimer Society of B.C. support groups. Joan found strength in her community, and, since Ken’s passing, she’s made time to give back.

Where she really shines is as one of the many volunteer hosts for CoffeeBreak throughout B.C.

A CoffeeBreak is set for Nanaimo’s Origin at Longwood, 6205 Oliver Rd., on Wednesday (Sept. 26), 2:30-3:30 p.m.

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