Living with Alzheimer’s Disease – Jim and Margaret’s Story

Photography by Ken Gray

The warm and bright sun spotlighted the love and support at Kamloops’ Hillside Stadium this past weekend as participants gathered for the annual IG Wealth Management Walk for Alzheimer’s. Participants joined thousands of Canadians who want to see a world without Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Kathie and I walked with this year’s honorary family, Jim and Margaret Mitchell. Jim and Margaret are friends and members of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Kamloops. Jim worked with me on many projects in recent years; Margaret and I provided leadership at the Territory (Diocesan) level.

Throughout our time together Jim’s Alzheimer’s experience has steadily deepened. Kathie and I know the journey well as both of our mothers lived with the disease for many years. As an Occupational Therapist Kathie specialized in supporting persons with dementia including Alzheimer’s residents in long-term care at various times in her career.

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease. In the words of the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, “Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that destroys brain cells, causing thinking ability and memory to deteriorate over time. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging, and is irreversible.” Progressive in its direction and motion – someone described it to me as a series of goodbyes — as one function after another disappears, functions like memory, speech, mobility and bodily processes. These inevitabilities noted, I must say that Jim still has a twinkle in his eye, and as we walked to the speakers’ platform he retains the ability to make more than one witty observation.

Alzheimer’s affects not only the person carrying the disease; it likewise affects those supporting persons with the disease. In her comments Margaret shared the following words:

This year there has been a lot of change in our lives, sometimes very stressful as we dealt with packing up and moving, making decisions about what was going into storage, what we wanted to keep with us in our motor home, and as a result of all this change, Jim’s dementia has increased. In speaking with Tara and others from the Alzheimer’s Society I learned people with dementia find change very difficult and unsettling… it helps to know and understand cause and effect!”

If much of life can be described as a series of changes requiring the ability to negotiate and endure such changes, the challenge for the person with Alzheimer’s is even more acute. Arguably the biggest change Jim and Margaret have faced together has been COVID.

“In November 2020 the Alzheimer Society had a pilot online program for Minds in Motion and Jim was invited to participate in this pilot project. He loved it!! Being able to interact and connect with others like himself was a true Godsend. The online program continues to this day, and Jim continues to participate, thanks again to the loving support of friends who accompany him as his care partner – yes, I am still working!!”

Jim is a very friendly and social person, he needs to be around people, and takes great pleasure in being online with the Minds in Motion group

A final thought is directed at all of us, those who know the experience of dementia, those who walk with others who know the confusion and frustration of living with the disease, those who provide support in the community in so many ways. Again, Margaret:

“I encourage anyone and everyone with dementia, those of you who have a family member or a friend you think may have dementia… don’t hide your anxieties and concerns, don’t keep it to yourself… share your story.. people are much more accepting than you may give them credit for! Just ask Jim!”

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