Alzheimer's disease devastating to P.E.I. family

Jim Day
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Marlene Doiron’s transformation from wife to caregiver has been crushing.

For the past six years, she has been watching with an aching heart as Earl, her spouse of 38 years, succumbs to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Earl, a 62-year-old Tarantum resident, was for many years “a hard working man, sun up and sun down,’’ Marlene recalls fondly.

He farmed. He did carpentry and siding work. For a handful of years, he took meticulous care of Mooney’s Pond in Peakes.

He fathered five children: Dean, Ryan, Amanda Drake, Brady and Janelle Doiron.

Raising draft horses was a passionate hobby. He gave sleigh rides in the winter. He showed the horses at the Provincial Exhibition in the summer.

The mere mention of these powerful beasts brings a brief spark to Earl’s eyes that today more typically hold a vacant or faraway look.

Dementia, a progressive and fatal brain disorder, has reduced Earl’s independence to close to nil.

He can no longer be left on his own, even for short periods. That is too dangerous.

Today, a tremor causes his right hand to constantly shake.

For the past month, he has been dragging his feet - literally.

Marlene picks up the slack - the ever-increasing slack.


Earl used to cook, and cook quite well. No more.

He would do laundry, but not now.

So Marlene does all the work and cares for her husband, which is a great deal of work in itself.

She makes sure Earl takes his medication, placing pills on a plate before her husband morning, noon and night.

At 60, Marlene, who battles with arthritis, also has the physically demanding work of cleaning Stratford Elementary School five days a week.

While she is working away from home, one of her children or her brother takes care of Earl.

Caring for the man is a team effort and a growing task.

More and more, Marlene feels less like a wife.

More and more, she feels more like a caregiver.

The pair, she reflects, used to work so well together. Now she takes care of everything, including Earl.

She barely pauses when asked to quantify the mental and emotional toll of being a caregiver to her husband for the past six years and counting.

“From one to 10 - 10,’’ she says.

“It’s devastating. It’s devastating - and it’s devastating for him.’’

Still, she is a strong-willed woman. She is determined to care for her husband.

“I hate to see Earl sick but you take those cards He gave you,’’ she says.

“I’d like to keep Earl as long as I can.’’

She notes, though, if and when Earl becomes incontinent, she will look to move her husband into a care facility.

Earl bristles at the thought of living in a nursing home.

“I ain’t going there,’’ he says.

“I do my best,’’ he adds. “I know now I’m not as good as I was years ago.’’

His best often falls short.

The other day, he called his wife Mary. That is the name of Marlene’s late mother.

Earl also causes one of his sons to become quite emotional when unintentionally calling him by the wrong name.

Marlene, drawing on six years of experience in providing loving care to her ill husband, offers the following advice to people who have a family member or friend with dementia.

“Just love them as much as you can,’’ she says.

Organizations: Stratford Elementary School, Alzheimer Society

Geographic location: Peakes

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Recent comments

  • Sunny
    June 13, 2015 - 22:50

    Experience has proven that Alzheimer's sufferers who are loved and cared for at home remain far more happy and pleasant than those sent to "nursing homes". Caregiving is a huge toll on spouses, while nursing facilities put a toll on dementia sufferers. What a shame and waste that government does not assist families to keep sufferers at home. While there is assisted funding for nursing home resident fees, where is the financial assistance for this 60-year old, tax paying caregiver wife?

  • David Griffin
    June 13, 2015 - 17:38

    This has got to be a very difficult situation. A close friend/past ne ighbour of ours has the same condition. His wife is similar to Marlene , as now being a care taker. Hopefully someday soon new cure can be found or at best make life easier on everybody involved in such a tragic situation.

  • don
    June 13, 2015 - 13:47

    i know how he feels i am a care giver for my dad and it hurts so bad seeing him going down hill. but we all need more help from the health pei but they no care just the money to help them get rich and say it is not there fault they do not have the money.

    • annie
      June 14, 2015 - 20:09

      well don i know its hard for me to see wallace go thru this all we can do is be there for himjust love him he is like a dad to me we have rough days but with help from the alzimers group my sister who works every day with these people we have good support,our faith will makes us srong as we watch him every day he his life style

  • littledove
    June 13, 2015 - 11:14

    Blessings to you and Earl and family today and the days ahead Marlene Doiron. May family and or friends be there for you and your husband when you need them the most. I have a head injury and the trauma that occurred before surgery reminds me in this video how far I have come in the last 7 yr. but more importantly how one spouse is dedicated to his or her loved one . It is a scary journey for both of you and your family . May God wrap His arms around each one of you during these difficult times.

  • Kim
    June 13, 2015 - 08:50

    I have the greatest empathy for Marlene and Earl. Speaking from experience, if Marlene thinks it is bad now, I have bad news that it's going to get worse. I truly hope all of her children and other family members will be there for her when she and Earl really need them.

    • Shirley and Don Bradley
      June 14, 2015 - 20:38

      WOW!! Thank you so much for sharing your story. You and your family are such an inspiration.

    • Shirley and Don Bradley
      June 14, 2015 - 20:40

      WOW!! Thank you so much for sharing your story. You and your family are such an inspiration.