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Caregivers discuss roles in supporting loved ones with dementia

Eileen and Sonya Thompson spend some time together at Summerset Manor in Summerside. Sonya left everything in Ontario to return to P.E.I. to care for her parents.
Eileen and Sonya Thompson spend some time together at Summerset Manor in Summerside. Sonya left everything in Ontario to return to P.E.I. to care for her parents.

By Daniel Brown Journal Pioneer SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - Sonya Thompson received the news in 2009.

Both her parents, Marshall and Evelyn Thompson, had dementia.

She left her home and her career in Ontario and got on a plane.

“Mom and Dad need me – I’m going home,” she told herself.

Thompson became a caregiver for her parents and lived with them at her childhood home in New London for three years before they both had to go to seniors’ homes.

Eventually, Thompson’s parents had to be put in separate homes. Their different forms of dementia made it hard for them to live together.

Marshall was moved to Andrews of P.E.I. He had mixed dementia and died in 2014.

Evelyn was moved to Summerset Manor. The 81-year-old has vascular dementia.

Thompson made many sacrifices to care for her parents. It is mentally and physically exhausting, and for a while she dealt with depression.

“I basically cut myself off from my life to protect my parents,” she said.

It was challenging for Thompson to trust others to take care of her mother. It makes her feel guilty, but it’s necessary so she can refocus her life.

“It’s hard to watch your parents go,” she said. “I was honoured I had the opportunity to be there for them.”

Giselle MacKinnon is also a caregiver. Her mother, Eileen MacKinnon, had dementia for about five years, and was able to spend most of it at her Lot 16 home before moving to Summerset Manor.

Caregivers have to learn ways to keep their loved ones safe. Eileen would often try making her own tea, but she was prone to burning herself, so MacKinnon would unscrew the stove fuses to keep that from happening.

It’s difficult to trick loved ones, MacKinnon said. “But sometimes it’s a necessity,” she said. “There’s no manual. You just have to figure it out as you go.”

Dementia is isolating for the patient and caregiver. However, there are support groups for caregivers to share their experiences and learn from each other, including one that meets at Summerset Manor.

“Sometimes it’s just to tell what’s going on at home and have people listen,” MacKinnon noted. “You put a lot of hours into being a caregiver.”

Peter Peterson was often told he did too much as a caregiver. This never stopped him.

“A caregiver will do as much as they can do,” he said.

His wife, Anita Peterson, got dementia after more than 40 years of marriage. She died at Summerset Manor in 2015.

Peterson recommends having friends to talk to for support, rather than family members, because your family would be experiencing the same pain.

Getting on the same level as someone with dementia is also important. Because their memories regress, they are in a different place. It’s best for them and the caregiver to meet them where they are, he suggested.

“Love them for who they are now, not for who they were when you originally loved them.”

Meanwhile, on June 4, Sonya Thompson will be walking with the P.E.I. Walk for Alzheimer’s in Summerside. The annual fundraiser is organized by the P.E.I. Alzheimer Society, and will also be happening in Charlottetown that day.

Many people still aren’t aware of how many people are living with or dealing with Alzheimer’s, Thompson said.

“There’s not enough known about it. Health care has certainly progressed, but awareness is slow coming.”

All proceeds from the Walk for Alzheimer’s help Island caregivers access education and support through the Alzheimer Society’s programs. All funds raised stay on the Island, and also go towards Alzheimer’s research.




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