November 27th, 2020

Dementia diagnosis has meant tough decisions for a local couple

By GILLIAN SLADE on January 16, 2020.

Del and Iris Egan's journey with Alzheimer's began about 15 years ago when Iris was first diagnosed with the disease. The last couple of years have been more challenging including the decision for Iris to live permanently in a seniors residence with dementia care.

It took more than a decade after a diagnosis of dementia for a local couple to be ready to share that information with friends.

Iris and Del Egan say dementia stereotypes was one of the reasons they decided to keep it quiet.

Del says many people think even now that because Iris has dementia she will not know who they are, but there are different types of dementia.

“She doesn’t have a problem understanding people she has a problem finding words to share with them,” said Del.

Iris has a big smile as she talks about a group from their church visiting her from time to time. She really appreciates that.

Del suggests anyone who is unsure about visiting, or is not sure how to react, should simply ask the family.

Although Iris was diagnosed about 15 years ago. It was not until 2018 that her symptoms became significant. She has additional health issues and home care was already making daily visits to their home.

In January 2019 there was a significant event in a fast food restaurant. They tear up just thinking about it and reach out to hold hands.

Iris began choking on something and nothing anyone tried made any difference. Paramedics were called and Iris ended up staying in hospital to recover.

Back at home the number of falls that Iris was having was increasing too. Del says he has been told that choking and falls can be some of the symptoms associated with dementia.

For Iris’s safety, Del knew she would need to be in a seniors residence with dementia care but it was a decision that Iris was not up to participating in.

“It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make,” said Del who adds that he still feels “guilty” about it.

There were supports to help him through the next stage. Home care helped and he was soon visiting three seniors residences. Some looked very glam but he realized in the end it would be the care that Iris received that matters most.

Iris moved into Riverview, a place where she had actually worked many years before. They were astonished that some of the staff from that era still remembered her. Iris smiles at the thought. It has proven to be a good fit and they are appreciative of the care she receives at Riverview.

“It’s been a very positive experience,” said Del.

It required an adjustment for both of them.

Del has found it hard to be living on his own again and talks of the “emptiness” he feels.

“You watch TV and dose off … wake up and expect her to be there,” said Del.

When the initial diagnosis of dementia was made there was the reality that there is no cure.

“You hope there will be a break through,” said Del who would like to see more funding for research, which would be a huge saving for the health care system.

If you have ever been one of the people questioning the need for “family washrooms” in addition to those for men and women, Del wants you to know they are invaluable to him and Iris.

A number of health issues means Iris uses a wheelchair and she needs assistance when going to the washroom. If they are at a restaurant or public place it is very awkward. He does not want to take Iris into the men’s washroom and he does not feel comfortable in the women’s washroom.

“It’s major stress if she needs the washroom and there is no family washroom,” said Del.

January is Alzheimer’s awareness month.

The Medicine Hat office of the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories is located in the Mohawk Medical building unit 201, 770 6 Street S.W. Telephone: 403-528-2700.

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