Couple learning there is life after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

Maureen and Randy Greer are learning to adapt to dementia. Glenn Ogilvie

Pam Wright

Randy Greer knew something was wrong but couldn’t put his finger on it.

The veteran truck driver was forgetting how to do simple things, and it scared him.

He confided in wife Maureen about what was happening, and she agreed his behavior had changed.

“Things were going wrong,” Maureen Greer said of the sequence of events that came to a head in June 2016.

“I thought he had had a couple of strokes.”

So began a barrage of testing and trips to doctor offices. Two months later, the couple landed at the door of the Alzheimer Society of Sarnia-Lambton.

Greer was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, moderate dementia on a high-functioning scale that affected short-term memory.

“I was forgetting. I’d end up not where I was supposed to be,” he said. “I couldn’t understand it but I could feel it.”

Just like that, his life changed. His driver licence was pulled, and the family breadwinner could no longer do a job he’d done for 40 of the couple’s 42-year marriage.

“I thought it was the end of the world when I couldn’t do what I had done all my life,” he said.

Encouraged by physician Dr. John O’Mahony, the couple found a helping hand at the Alzheimer Society, where they learned there is life after a dementia diagnosis.

Peer support groups for both of the Greers have been a lifeline.

“In group, I could talk with people who knew what I had to deal with,” said Randy Greer, who looks forward to the bi-monthly meetings.

Maureen also found solace and help at the society. She attends peer group meetings with others whose loved ones are impacted by dementia.

“It’s a safe place where you can share with other people on the journey,” she said.

Their three adult children, two of whom live in Sarnia, are also part of the counselling process.

Though he’ll never hit the highway again as a Class ‘A’ trucker, Randy can drive a car again, thanks to an innovative program at London’s Parkwood Hospital. He was able to take a driving test, accompanied by an instructor who also operates a set of controls.

“He passed the test with flying colours,” Maureen said proudly. “The instructor said he’d done better than any who had ever taken the test before.”

Randy also went from someone who “never took a pill” to someone with six to eight medications.

Like a sudden storm, the effects of Alzheimer disease are hard to predict. The causes are varied, and while it might progress rapidly in one person it will crawl along in another.

Markers are forgetfulness and fatigue as the brain works overtime to compensate for the dementia.

Desiree Barrett, a facilitator for the patient support groups, said people are usually reluctant to come through the door, but once inside they build rapport.

“There’s no judgment, this is a safe place,” Barrett said.

Though there are more than 100 kinds of dementia, a concrete diagnosis can only be made when the brain is autopsied after death, she added.

Aging communities like Sarnia-Lambton are feeling the impact of dementia-related disease as baby boomers move into their senior years.

Marie Marcy-Smids, fund development and communications coordinator for the Sarnia branch, said the organization provides holistic help for patients and families.

The adage that it takes a village to raise a child is also true when it comes to caring for someone with dementia, she said.

“We as an agency are trying to be that village.”

Funding for the Alzheimer Society comes through the province, but demand exceeds supply and the shortfall must be met through fundraising, such as the May 27 Alzheimer’s walk.

Promoting programs is a double-edged sword, Marcy-Smids said. “We obviously need to expand.”

If YOU GO:

WHAT: Walk for Alzheimer’s Make Memories Matter

WHEN: Sunday, May 27, 10 a.m., starting at Suncor Agora at Centennial Park.

OTHER: To register individually or as part of a team, or to give financial support, visit http://alzheimer.ca/en/sarnialambton