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Okanagan-based caregivers share stories for Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

A dementia or Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis doesn’t just affect the person diagnosed, it’s a disease that affects an entire family, with children often becoming caregivers to their parents.

There are 85,000 people currently living with the disease, and the Alzheimers Society of B.C. offers support services not only for the person diagnosed but also for their caregivers.

“You can often become isolated when a family member is diagnosed with dementia,” said Sherry Wezner, the support and education coordinator at the Alzheimer Society of B.C. for the North and Central Okanagan.

“We want people to know that they’re not alone. People who come to our education sessions or are part of our support groups, that’s usually one of the first things that they say: they really feel like they’re not alone in this journey [after attending].”

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January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and not only is Wezner hoping to erase the stigma that surrounds the disease but also to support caregivers in their time of need.

Craig Burns was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016  and he understands the progression of this disease because he was his mother’s caregiver and now his daughter is taking care of him.

“Everybody’s different, I walked with my mom through her experience so I have experience in the early stage, middle stage and final stage,” said Burns.

“It’s something I am aware of, I struggle with that but I am aware of what’s ahead. I really rely on others to support me and encourage me.”

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That’s why he has stepped up to become the face of the disease, to help others feel less alone. The disease is personal and varies from case to case. Naomi Mison has been caring for her mother for 16 years and now she’s become an advocate for others.

“It is very hard being a caregiver, especially I find as a young adult caregiver,” said Mison.

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“My mom was diagnosed when I was 22 years old, so those are the times you are really thinking about boyfriends, school, and travel. It really takes you out of that and you almost become a mother to your mother, and that’s what happened to me.

Mison is now a distance caregiver. Her mom lives in Edmonton and Mison lives in the Okanagan, meaning a care home is the right choice for them.

For others that may not be the answer. For Michelle Chisholm and her family, in-home care services and other programs are what works best for her dad, who was diagnosed in 2019.

Her mother is his primary caregiver and using a service like Home Instead allows her mother to receive some respite and help around the house. Home Instead has a specialized support program for those living with the disease.

“It is so, so vital to be able to look after your loved one and to have a little time for yourself,” said Chisholm.

“So many people, they feel guilty doing something to help them out and I think something like Home Instead and also the adult day programs that are out there give the caregiver those helping supports and respite time.”

Respite time for caregivers helps ensure families can tackle the disease together as a united front.

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