Group offers hope when the golden years turn dark

Grieving can begin long before bodies are laid in the grave. That's especially true when caring for someone who has Alzheimer's disease or dementia. "Because dementia is a degenerative brain disease, it's irreversible.

Grieving can begin long before bodies are laid in the grave.

That’s especially true when caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

“Because dementia is a degenerative brain disease, it’s irreversible. When you are caregiving for that person, you will be going through all the losses of that person as you knew them, all the losses of their abilities, physically and mentally. So, right from the beginning, you will be spending a lot of time in grief,” explains Cathy Angel.

That’s one thing she didn’t expect to learn when her mother was diagnosed with the disease a number of years ago. Angel and the rest of the family worked together to give her the best care possible, and to support her father who was still living at home.

It was an all-consuming job, said Angel. People who have dementia often lose their sense of time. Her mother would think it was time to get up while her children were getting ready to sleep. She would forget to eat. And there were constant concerns about her safety: what if she left a pot boiling on the stove? What if she wandered outside and got lost without realizing it? Each day brought a new set of challenges; what worked one day may not work the next.

Thankfully, the family was able to support each other. Angel’s siblings who lived in British Columbia would sometimes travel up; other family members drove in from Mayo. They have deep roots in the Yukon; Angel’s great-great-great-uncle was Robert Henderson, one of the first men to discover gold in the Klondike.

Eventually, though, it became too difficult for them to give her the care she needed at home. Her mother moved to Copper Ridge Place in 2006. She would live there until she died in 2011.

Caregiving bonded her already-close family closer together, said Angel. But that doesn’t always happen for everyone, she said. The stress of caring for a dementia patient can pull people apart. That’s especially troublesome because caregivers can easily begin to feel isolated themselves.

That’s the other thing main thing Angel learned once her mother moved into the long-term care facility. The staff was dedicated; the facilities excellent – her mother had her own room in a locked-in area of the building that allowed her to wander around freely. She was an active person, her daughter recalls, who loved gathering people together for parties. Even in Copper Ridge Place, she would try to get everyone around her dancing, said Angel.

But support for caregivers? That was non-existent.

Not long after her mother moved to Copper Ridge Place, Angel met another woman who was also caring for a parent with dementia. The two “put their heads together,” and in 2009, they started the Alzheimer/Dementia Family Caregiver Support Group.

There was a bit of a hiccup when an individual with dementia came to the first meeting. But it’s been going strong ever since.

The group brings together people who are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to share stories and give advice. When the original co-founder moved away in 2011, Angel enlisted long-time friend Joanne Lewis to help her run the group.

It’s a grassroots group, said Angel, although it does receive some support from the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

Participants have ranged from teenagers to seniors in their 80s. And while each hour-and-a-half long meeting does include some form of education, it’s not run by professionals, she said. The facilitators aren’t experts, although they’re willing to bring experts in to speak about different topics.

In September, the group plans to bring in someone to talk about the importance of planning early when it comes to securing power-of-attorney and guardianship so the family can make decisions when the person they’re caring for no longer can. All information is kept confidential, unless the facilitators feel someone a participant is caring for may be at risk, said Angel. But in her years with the group, she hasn’t had a problem with the care people receive in Whitehorse, she said.

The facilitators are experts in one thing: how caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease feels.

“People who are caring for someone with dementia have an incredibly stressful job to do with very little tools. Unless they are educated about the disease, they really don’t know what is going to happen next and how they are supposed to deal with it,” explains Angel.

When her mother was showing symptoms of the disease, it was difficult to even find a doctor who would give a diagnosis. The family only got one because they were persistent, she said. But once the diagnosis was official, they were left with feelings of denial, and not a whole lot of information. They asked the staff at Copper Ridge Place questions and found resources online. But that couldn’t address the non-medical aspects of a dementia diagnosis.

“Along with (the diagnosis) comes all kinds of emotional feelings of anxiety and stress and depression and guilt and basically the inability to manage this disease, which is unmanageable, basically, if you’re not a professional,” said Angel.

But while it may be hard to manage, people need to know they don’t have to do it alone.

“We like to provide a sense of hope in the face of a disease that appears to be hopeless,” said Angel.

The support group meets the second Wednesday of every month at Copper Ridge Place at 7 p.m. People who are interested in coming are asked to call Cathy Angel at 633-7337 or Joanne Lewis at 668-7713. Angel has also launched a website, www.alzheimeryukon.org, to give more information.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A proposed Official Community Plan amendment would designate a 56.3-hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. Whitehorse city council will vote on the second reading of the Official Community Plan amendment on Dec. 7. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
Future area of Whistle Bend considered by council

Members set to vote on second reading for OCP change

The City of Whitehorse’s projected deficit could be $100,000 more than originally predicted earlier this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City deficit could be just over $640,000 this year

Third quarter financial reports presented to council

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Oct. 30. Masks became mandatory in the Yukon for anyone five years old and older as of Dec. 1 while in public spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
As mask law comes into effect, premier says $500 fines will be last resort

The territory currently has 17 active cases of COVID-19

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, during a press conference on April 1.
Government rejects ATAC mining road proposal north of Keno City

Concerns from the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun were cited as the main reason for the decision

asdf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Dec. 2, 2020

The new Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation council elected Dec. 1. (Submitted)
Little Salmon Carmacks elects new chief, council

Nicole Tom elected chief of Little Salmon Carcmacks First Nation

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read