Surviving COVID was easy part for woman with dementia

Marie Marcy-Smids and her mom Helen Marcy. Submitted Photo

Cathy Dobson

Helen Marcy, 94, is one of the thousands of Sarnians who have contracted COVID-19 over the past 15 months.

And though she recovered, the virus had such a devastating impact on her moderate dementia that Marcy could no longer live on her own, her daughter says.

“Despite our best efforts to protect her from the virus, mom became ill in February,” said Marie Marcy-Smids. “Now we’ve had to move mom in with us because we don’t want to put her in long-term care, and we rely on the Alzheimer Society even more.”

The Society provides therapy sessions, support groups, respite services and counselling. There’s also a First Link Care Navigator to help families tap into other services for their loved one.

Marcy-Smids wears two hats in this story.  She is the daughter of her elderly mom coping with dementia, and she is manager of fund development and communication at the Alzheimer Society of Sarnia-Lambton.

“I started my job three years ago, and shortly after my own mom began showing signs of dementia,” she said.

Helen Marcy has enjoyed a full life, raised three children and worked for years as head cashier at Sarnia’s Woolco store. She was an extravert.

“Mom was always the life of the party,” said Marcy-Smids.

Her family suspected something was amiss when Marcy began losing executive functioning.

“It was small things at first, like not wanting to open the mail. And there was paranoia that people were taking things like her purse,” her daughter said.

Tests confirmed vascular dementia, which affects memory, reasoning and judgment. Though the Alzheimer Society name alludes to one illness, the organization serves clients with a variety of cognitive conditions generally called dementia.

The pandemic has made things so much worse for families, said Marcy-Smids.

“Our client list is going off the rails. People living with it were already isolated. Now they can’t go out and they can’t understand why not.

“That creates a lot of anxiety, so we have a lot more people turning to us with extreme scenarios. We are maxed out.”

Sarnia-Lambton has an estimated 3,000 people with dementia. About 900 of them are local Alzheimer Society clients, and until more funding is available most programs are running at capacity.

The society’s 21 staff members regularly work late into the night to keep up, said Marcy-Smids.

A day program currently providing activities for dementia clients twice weekly could easily be running five days a week, she said.

“There’s no doubt we need more ongoing sustainable funding.”

About 60% of the budget comes from the province; the rest requires fundraising.

The Walk for Alzheimer’s is taking place through May, tickets are on sale for a kitchen makeover, and the agency has teamed up with Bad Dog Bar & Grill for a Father’s Day special to celebrate your “Dad Dog.”

For more, visit www.alzheimer.ca/sarnialambton  or call 519-332-4444