Small communities can make a huge difference for people on the Alzheimer’s journey, and Ashcroft resident Heather Inglis has firsthand knowledge of what impact that difference has had on her life and that of her mother, Gloria.
Heather and Gloria were both living in Burnaby when they found out that Gloria had dementia; something Heather had already suspected before she and her mother went on a cruise together. Living in such close quarters, Heather noticed things that had not been as apparent before.
“I’d had my suspicions prior to the cruise but you just don’t let your brain go there,” she says. “You just want to think it’s forgetfulness.”
Heather and Gloria talked over all the scenarios around the upcoming move. “I said to her ‘Come for a week and I’ll show you that everything you can do in Burnaby, you can do in Ashcroft.’ I showed her some town homes and she bought one, which she says was the best thing she could have done.”
Right away, says Heather, the community was wonderful. “Belinda at the post office said ‘Make sure you introduce her to me.’ Everyone had their eye on her all the time in a good way.”
She gives as an example the day a friend mentioned to her that Gloria had come into a local store three times in one day for the same thing. “I thanked them, because I could only see or hear her when I was with her or on the phone with her.
“We had all these eyes on her, so we found out more about her condition. Also, we felt that she was so safe here. If she ever got confused someone would phone me and say ‘Hey, Heather, your mom needs help.’”
Gloria was very involved in volunteer work when she lived in Burnaby, but she made the decision to give that up when she moved.
“She was Burnaby’s Citizen of the Year in 2007, and volunteered six days a week,” says Heather, “but she decided not to do that here because starting something unfamiliar was more than she could handle.” However, Gloria did aerobics classes three days a week and went to the Community Coffee Wednesdays sessions at the HUB.
“They were easy things for her to do because of how small Ashcroft is. She did surrender her licence eventually but it was easy for her to learn how to get places, and she could walk places once she gave up her licence.”
When Gloria was in the early stages of dementia, Heather would take her to the Alzheimer’s BC Caregiver Support Group in Kamloops, designed for those starting on the Alzheimer’s journey.
“We’d go there once a month, and it was really helpful. People learn so much from each other, and a lot of what we learn in caregiver groups is different ways of looking at things. People say ‘This is what we were experiencing, this is how I dealt with it.’
“I’d encourage people who have received a diagnosis of dementia to go to these groups.”
Another benefit was the monthly support group meeting in Ashcroft for caregivers and those living with people with dementia.
“The support group was awesome,” says Heather. “I was basically caregiving for two people [in addition to looking after her mother, Heather’s husband Gary was awaiting a transplant]. I couldn’t really leave Ashcroft, so the fact that the support group was available in such a small community was a godsend.”
Being part of the group gives Heather an idea of how many families in Ashcroft are dealing with dementia, and she knows there are more. She adds that even people not living with dementia in some form can have a really big impact when it comes to helping and supporting those who are.
“It’s ‘the passive eye’; simple things like saying ‘Hi, Gloria, I’m so-and-so,’ so the other person isn’t in a position where they have to say ‘I know that I know you, but I don’t know who you are.’ If people are more aware, it’s easy to do those kinds of things.”
Heather notes that families dealing with dementia need support in order to sustain the level of care and time that is required. “It’s interesting, because a lot of people (not my friends) have said to me ‘There’s nothing wrong with your mother, I just spoke with her.’ I just laugh and say ‘Do you know how much time it took me to teach her to do that?’”
She adds that patience is key. “We need to be patient when they’re fumbling with their cards at the checkout. Don’t get impatient with them. Chances are that just getting to the store is hard for them.”
With Canadians living longer, more people will be diagnosed with dementia, and Heather says that people need to be conscious that it is something that is prevalent in our community and will increase.
“Learn about it, and learn about the resources that are available. Educate yourself: read an article, attend a workshop, devote two hours to learn more about it. Ten per cent of people over the age of 65 will get dementia, so it will touch you.”
She urges people not to be afraid to talk about dementia. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s an organ of the body that’s failing, like any other one, and we need to talk about it.
“One of the things I love about this community is that it’s a kind and caring one, where people can have so much more impact on helping both the person with Alzheimer’s and their families.”
Heather says that just asking “Is there anything I can do to help you?” is a simple way to help.
“A perfect example is that my mother couldn’t remember to put her garbage out. One of her neighbours asked what they could do to help, and I said ‘Can you put my mother’s garbage out on Tuesday?’ because I was going there to do it.
“Don’t be afraid to ask if you can help. Those little things mean so much.”
The Ashcroft caregiver support group is held on the first Tuesday of every month. There is a brief screening process, and registration is required. For information, call the Kamloops Resource Centre at (250) 377-8200 or email email@example.com.