Living life fully with dementia – tips from the real experts
When Gerard Laderoute was diagnosed with vascular dementia six years ago, he didn’t hold out much hope for his future. With a sister and brother who valiantly fought the disease, Gerard knew what his future could look like. And he was scared.
It was his wife of 48 years, Monique, who encouraged Gerard to join her at the education program offered by the Alzheimer’s Society of Waterloo Wellington, and together, they’ve never looked back.
Today, Gerard and Monique are incredibly active – they volunteer and fundraise for the Alzheimer Society of Waterloo Wellington, and for Hack4Health, a yearly hackathon hosted by MAREP and the University of Waterloo. They attend their Memory Boosters Social Club meetings, they regularly host dinner parties, and, most recently, they have acted as usability research participants for MemorySparx One, an iPad app designed for people with dementia.
Both Gerard and Monique describe their life since Gerard’s diagnosis as a journey and they are happy to share some tips from their journey for anyone who is just beginning theirs.
Don’t go it alone. If you or someone you love has just been diagnosed, it is probably a very emotional and confusing time. There is help. There will be an Alzheimer Society in your community that not only provides information about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, but they will offer resources, programs and other types of support. Reach out to them.
Stay social. Traveling, visiting, and interacting with people is very important. Share your time with people in a similar situation. Get involved with other people who are also living with dementia. You’ll be able to share experiences and provide and receive support. And if you want to travel, consider traveling with another couple. You’ll be able to help each other along the way, and you will have a great time.
Stay active. It’s important to live as stress-free as possible and a good way to do that is to stay active, both physically and mentally. There are many committees and fundraising groups that always need volunteers. Not only does it help to maintain your cognitive abilities, but it gives your life some additional meaning when you give back to the community. It is also a lot of fun (it really is).
Start programs early. There are a number of great programs that support people living with dementia and their care-partners, but the key is to start attending them early on in your journey. These familiar faces will become the friends who comfort you as you progress along this path. Meeting people for the first time and making friends at a later stage can be more of a challenge, so make these friends now. You will be so glad to have them later.
Get your paperwork done. This isn’t as much fun as the others, but it is so important. If you don’t have a Will or Power of Attorney, that’s something that needs to be done right away.
Plan for the future. Moving to a long-term care facility may seem like it is in the distant future, but if it is part of your plan, don’t wait until later. Take time early on to tour the homes in your region and ask lots of questions, so you will have the peace of mind that comes from having a plan you are comfortable with.
Listen to the music. Although people with dementia do often have increasing trouble remembering things, they somehow have an uncanny ability to recall music from their past. The lesson here is to seek out the music. If you have an opportunity to go to a dinner and dance event, go. If you have a chance to sing at an event, attend that event. The feeling of joy that comes from music is worth the effort. Say yes to these opportunities.
Living fully is about making the most of the time you have. In that regard, whether you are living with dementia or not, Monique and Gerard are role models for all of us.
Thank you, Monique and Gerard, for sharing your lessons with us. We are truly grateful.