Community Papers

Alzheimer’s disease tests bonds of family and friendship

The bonds of friendship are not easily broken, But for Christine Cole and Linda Ealing, the destructive force that is Alzheimer’s disease has done it’s best to divide them.

The North Delta pair have been inseparable friends for more than 35 years, and have lived together as neighbours for more than 25.

“Linda’s always been there for me,” says Cole. “She’s seen my kids grow up. She’s like a sister to me.”

But close to 10 years ago, Cole began to notice her dear friend was changing.

“We were both getting to that menopausal stage, so we both used to laugh about not remembering things,” recalls Cole. “But for Linda, it just got worse.”

Ealing would miss appointments, and frequently lose things.

“She kept phoning me up with the same requests, and couldn’t remember our earlier conversations,” says Cole. “That’s when I realized this was something more serious.”

Cole convinced Ealing to see a doctor, and eventually Ealing was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 49.

The destructive neurological disease causes dementia, confusion, long-term memory loss, and mood swings. Alzheimer’s eventually effects bodily functions, and life expectancy after diagnosis is typically five to 10 years. The disease affects more than 70,000 British Columbians, close to 750,000 Canadians, according to the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

Early onset Alzheimer’s, that is, cases that appear before a patient is 65 years old, accounts for just five to 10 per cent of all Alzheimer’s cases.

“It’s not common but it can happen,” says Cole.

With Ealing’s family back in Manitoba and unable to care for her, it fell to Cole to look after her dear friend as Ealing’s condition worsened.

Ealing lived downstairs from Cole, so Cole would cook meals for her every day, make sure she was showering and changing her clothes, helped with her finances and shopping, and made sure she was taking her medication.

Navigating the system was difficult at first, says Cole, but once Ealing was referred to UBC,

“It was a whole different ballgame,” she says. “They really supported us. Not only Linda, but they were supporting me as a caregiver.”

The burden of Alzheimer’s is often carried by the caregiver, usually a spouse or child. Someone suffering from dementia requires near constant attention.

After five years of caring for her friend, Cole was burned out, and her role as Ealing’s caregiver was affecting her job.

Ealing’s condition had deteriorated; she was becoming aggressive and could no longer live on her own. So three years ago, Cole decided to place her in a care facility in Surrey.

It was not an easy decision.

“She was resistant,” says Cole. “But she was unable to see how her situation was effecting everyone else.”

Cole visits Ealing two, three times a week now, and has hired a companion to visit with Ealing two hours a day, five days a week, so Ealing doesn’t get lonely.

Cole leads a support group for the caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients, where they can get help navigating the system, and discuss the many stresses and frustrations that come with the role.

“Obviously I didn’t want this job, nobody does, but there are people in far more difficult situations than I am,” she says.

This weekend, Cole will be taking part in the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s Walk for Memories in Surrey, and will walk in honour of her dear friend.

It’s Cole’s hope that with more funding, a cure can be found to the debilitating disease, and comfort can be brought to its sufferers.

• The Investors Group Walk for Memories for Delta, Surrey, and White Rock takes place Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. at Eaglequest Golf at Coyote Creek, 7778 152nd St., Surrey. Registration for the event is at 11:30 a.m.

The money you raise will support the more than 70,000 individuals and families in B.C. living with Alzheimer disease and other dementias.

To start at team, volunteer, donate or sponsor, visit http://www.alzheimerbc.org/Get-Involved/Walk-for-Memories.aspx. For more information, call 604-541-0606 or 604-681-6530.

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