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Overcoming dementia’s depression
Dementia can be a depressing topic, but don’t try telling that to Carrol Horne.
There’s as yet no cure for dementia. Victims suffer a very painful loss of memory and identity, and their loved ones suffer as they watch their spouse or parent “disappear”.
Carrol Horne is 67 and has Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive attack on her brain and her self-image, but you’d never know that from meeting her in the street. Upbeat and energetic, she still tries to swim 60 lengths of the Blair Pool twice a week — without touching the pool sides to get that extra push.
“I could go longer,” she says, “but I don’t need to. Exercise is good. Doing it, I always feel better.”
And, every day, she takes her eight-year-old cocker spaniel, Misty, for a walk.
She also does ceramics, creating wonderfully imaginative pieces in her backyard studio and kilns. She loves socializing with her eight grandchildren, who range in age from 16 to three, even if now she sometimes has to check a captioned photo to remember all their names.
“I don’t like the idea of getting depressed, so I just keep going,” Carrol says. “I want to live — really live — until I die.”
Carrol and Terry Horne have lived in the Langley area all their lives. High school sweethearts who met at age 15 when Carrol’s brother brought Terry home for a visit, they were married at 20 and together raised one daughter and two sons.
Carrol — honoree of the 2013 Langley-Aldergrove-Abbotsford Walk for Memories — is a Nundal, one of seven siblings whose dad was Elford Nundal, a longtime Langley veterinarian who served Langley Township as alderman and mayor between 1974 and 1987. One brother, Larry, to whom she is close, is a widely- known Mission councillor.
When she left high school, Carrol trained as a practical nurse, but gave up that pursuit to help Terry run his glass business, Garran Mirror Doors. Terry can trace his family history in Langley back to 1915 and it was through Terry’s family that Carrol and Terry had their first brush with dementia.
Terry’s father was struck by Alzheimer’s disease and spent five years in a Fort Langley residential home where care was well-intentioned but resources limited.
“To him, it felt like an asylum,” says Terry. “There was nothing for him then in the way of help.”
Once a strong man not given to tears, “I remember him crying when it came time for him to return inside the home, pleading with us not to make him go back in.” Terry and Carrol live with the regret of not being able to do more to help.
Things are different now. When Carrol and her doctor first detected signs that her brain wasn’t functioning as well as it perhaps should, she walked with her dog into the Langley support office of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. and asked the ASBC’s area co-ordinator, Rose Puszka, for help. And help she got.
Many people with symptoms of dementia try to ignore them and leave it too late to seek help. Not Carrol Horne.
“Carrol decided she would attend an ASBC support-group meeting, to try to connect with others who were facing similar experiences and learn how they managed their early symptoms,” says Puszka. From those early meetings, Carrol has now become a lynchpin of group discussions.
“She’s truly amazing,” Puszka says. “She knows that Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and that she’ll forget things, but she also tells others that battling some of the symptoms can cause unwanted anxiety and frustration, not just for the one with dementia but for others, too.”
“Dementia isn’t frightening,” says Carrol. “It’s frustrating. You can’t let it get to you. You just have to keep going.”
“Nobody [who doesn’t have dementia] knows what it’s like not to have things in your head, words that just aren’t there.”
One of the hardest blows that came with her Alzheimer diagnosis was having to give up driving long before most seniors face that hurdle. She misses the independence of a car. At one time, she even drove a 750 c.c. motorcycle! A little over 20 years ago, Carrol and Terry decided to give up their bikes when increasing traffic took the fun out of two-wheeling, but both look back fondly on excursions “across the line” in Washington State.
Given the chance, would Carrol go back to those days of motorbikes and exploration, without any dementia in her future?
“I wouldn’t go back,” she says firmly, looking at Terry for confirmation. “We’re happy with this stage of life.” Terry agrees.
“And I don’t want to stop,” adds Carrol. “I haven’t done all I want to do yet.”
The Langley-Aldergrove-Abbotsford Walk for Memories is set for Sunday, January 27, noon to 3 p.m. at the Aldergrove Athletic Park (and Rotary Fieldhouse).
For more information and to support the walk, go to www.walkformemories.com and click on the Langley, Aldergrove & Abbotsford link. All money raised goes to research and to improving the lives of more than 70,000 British Columbians and their families who are suffering the effects of Alzheimer’s and other dementia.
Dementia already affects the lives of more than 70,000 British Columbians — and their families, who often shoulder the burden of care. Although age-related dementia is most common, Alzheimer’s is not just “an old person’s disease” and can strike early and tragically. Early-onset Alzheimer’s cuts life expectancy severely.
The non-profit Alzheimer Society of B.C. co-ordinates assistance through outreach offices in five regions, including three in Surrey-Cloverdale, Langley and Abbotsford. Although these services provide support to a great number of families, they are in some ways just the tip of an iceberg of need, especially as Baby Boomers age.
Annual Walks for Memories — the biggest fundraisers of the ASBC calendar — take place on the last Sunday of January, Alzheimer Awareness Month. The 2013 Langley-Aldergrove-Abbotsford walk will return to the Aldergrove Athletic Park, a lovely setting with spectacular views of Mt. Baker. There is free parking, a Rotary Fieldhouse providing shelter and facilities, and a variety of entertainment is planned for both children and adults. There is no set walking distance but people are encouraged to exercise, mingle and enjoy a few hours (noon to 3 p.m.) in support of a great cause.
For more information, go to walkformemories.com and click on the Langley, Aldergrove & Abbotsford link. The site offers people opportunities to register for the walk, sponsor teams and individuals, and volunteer.
Langley and Cloverdale residents wanting more information about dementia and the support services available should contact Rose Puszka at either the Langley Alzheimer Resource Centre, #200 — 20644 Eastleigh Crescent, 604-533-5277, or at the Czorny Alzheimer Resource Centre, #300 — 16850 - 66 Avenue, Surrey, 778-571-2390. Abbotsford residents should contact area co-ordinator Jillian Armit at the Abbotsford Alzheimer Resource Centre, 214 — 2825 Clearbrook Road, 604-859-3889.
“Not everyone adjusts to receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease like Carrol,” says Puzska. “The person with the diagnosis and the family around them take their own time to adjust to a different ‘normal’.
“Please know that information, support and education are available for anyone who is concerned about memory issues, or has received a diagnosis of any form of dementia. The Alzheimer Society of B.C. exists to support families living with dementia.”
Submitted by JANET INGRAM-JOHNSON