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Alzheimer Patient Offers Message of Hope at Society's Annual Meeting by John Gardiner

Gathering for a photo for the cktimes camera just before the Alzheimer Society's annual general meeting. (from left) Executive Director Cheryl Prince, Social Worker Megan Mackay-Barr, guest speaker Marilyn, President John O'Reilly, Social Worker Susanne Smith, Volunteer Coordinator Sue Boyle and Day Away Program Coordinator Lina DeMattia.

Being diagnosed with Alzheimers can have a devastating effect on an elderly person, but imagine finding out you had the disease when you were in your early 50's. For most of us, it would seem like the end of our lives, but guests who attended the Alzheimer Society of Chatham-Kent's annual meeting last week heard an inspiring message of hope.

Marilyn, who asked that her last name not be used, is 58-years-old and she's been suffering from the Alzheimers since shortly after reaching her 50th birthday. Instead of letting the disease devastate her and her family, she has become a volunteer for the Alzheimer Society, travelling widely with a message of hope for the future.

Marilyn said that being diagnosed with Alzheimers changes your entire life. "There are major changes in your identity," she said, "as you struggle from being a capable person to being someone you don't recognize. It's a re-shaping of your whole identity. Once you've done that and adjusted your coping mechanisms, you can have a positive life."

She said there are several pro-active things that Alzheimer patients can do to improve their quality of life. Medication made a huge difference in her life. "It lifted me out of a fog of confusion," she said. "I can cope better."

She said having a good doctor is important. "You need someone who listens to your memory complaints from the beginning," she said. "I had those types of doctors – they listened."

Family is another important consideration. "I have a wonderful family," she said. "My husband and children immediately learned all they could about the disease and they keep on learning. They help me stay positive and they fill in the gaps without complaints or criticism. I don't mean to forget and I don't need to be reminded that I'm failing."

Marilyn also talked about taking advantage of other therapies that can help. "There are fantastic nutritional supports," she said. "I want my body to be as healthy as it can be. I want to stimulate my mind and body as much as possible. Physical exercise and contact with people are both important."

She also talked about the importance of the Alzheimer Society and the work it does. "Their support has been absolutely priceless," she said. "I didn't feel like I was struggling alone. I was meeting with people like myself. In groups, we talked about the problems we were having and shared our coping strategies. We share our hope and help each other with problems. It can really help give you a push."

Marilyn has been travelling and talking about Alzheimers almost since she was diagnosed. "At first, it was incredibly tough to talk to the public about my pain," she said. "But the message is so well received that I'm able to overcome my discomfort."

She said she remains positive and upbeat despite the disease. "The future looks rosier that it did some time ago," she said. "I'm quite enjoying life now. My message in the beginning was about dealing with the fear, but now I talk more about living positively."

She said it's important to educate people about diseases like Alzheimers. "If I can help reduce the public's fear of people with these diseases," she said, "and help people with dementia to enhance their lives"

She said her talks are as much for family members as patients. "People are glad I give these talks," she said. "I can tell people what their loved ones are going through. It helps them to know what it feels like."

This article taken from Chatham-Kent Times.