Mother's Day when your mother has dementia

Alzheimer disease and related ailments are mostly associated with the elderly, but the condition struck Maureen Danes at age 55. -
Alzheimer disease and related ailments are mostly associated with the elderly, but the condition struck Maureen Danes at age 55.
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William Shakespeare wrote “One man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”

And mother and daughter Maureen Danes and Megan Giebelhaus know full well how difficult the later stages in life can be — especially when a mother is struck with dementia when she’s a mere 55, and her daughter is in her early 30s.

But for Giebelhaus, this Mother’s Day will be like no other in years.

For the first time in almost a decade she won’t be worrying about the state of her mother’s Chemainus home or whether she’s taken the right amount of medication. Or even whether she’s had a fall and doesn’t know what to do about it.

“It’s been a long and challenging journey for us,” says Giebelhaus.

A fall last winter was one of the incidents that finally convinced her family Danes should be in residential care. She moved to Ladysmith’s Lodge on 4th two months ago.

"After the fall, my mother knew she was in pain and was at the hospital but didn't know why," says Giebelhaus who's been her mother's principal caregiver since Danes, 63, was diagnosed with dementia at UBC's Alzheimer Disease and Related Disorders' Clinic eight years ago.

And then there was the time she accidentally doubled up on her medication.

“She was vomiting and having convulsions before we reached the hospital,” said Giebelhaus, 39.

“Now I feel content that she’s in good care and I can go to bed without worrying about her,” adds the Ladysmith mother of two teenage children.

“I’m still dealing with nostalgia for the way Mom used to be,” concedes Giebelhaus. “It’s been difficult and emotional.”

Danes was in her early 50s when Giebelhaus and her family began to notice disturbing signs that began shortly after the break-up of her mother’s second marriage.

“Mom was on stress leave from her government job when we noticed she was making very strange decisions and letting a lot of financial stuff snowball. And she was depressed,” Giebelhaus explains.

And as her mom moved to Nanaimo and then back to Chemainus, the symptoms escalated.

“At first, in Chemainus, everything went well. She had raised her family there, knew her way around for shopping and had a good routine,” said Giebelhaus, who visited two or three times a week and phoned every day.

But soon the hoarding that had begun innocently enough spiralled into a major problem, and cleanliness became an issue. By this time, Giebelhaus had given up her full-time job for more flexible house-cleaning work so she could care for her parent.

Typical of many dementia sufferers, Danes tried to hide her symptoms.

“It was so difficult watching her trying to keep things together when she was incapacitated. She didn’t want to burden us with her problem,” said Giebelhaus with a sigh. Her partner, John Reynolds, has been a pillar of strength, she adds.

oarding became so severe she had to clear the apartment just to provide pathways for her mom, she explains. Time passed and the dementia systems worsened.

“Old food had to be cleaned from the fridge. She hid her medications or cut them up,” Giebelhaus says. “And she would disagree with the doctors about her health.”

When the day for the move to the Lodge on 4th arrived, it was relatively easy and swift for both mother and daughter.

“The nurses call her the poster girl because she settled in so quickly and well,” said Giebelhaus.

“I know she’s comfortable. It’s nice, but sad at the same time.” she adds, saying her emotions have been up and down.

“I’ve tried to manage, and I have mostly,” she says.

To help, Giebelhaus has enrolled in a course to help her cope with transitions and dimensions of grief and loss while caring for someone with dementia sponsored by the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

“Mom’s always been cheery, and I feel lucky about that. I’ve taken a big breather before I begin to clear out her condo and storage.”

Mother’s Day plans include a lunch out with the family that will include Giebelhaus’ two brothers from up-island and a visit to the beach if the weather co-operates. The family will listen to reminiscences of days gone by that change with every telling and they’ll support Danes as she copes with short-term memory loss.

And then they’ll drive their mom back to the Lodge where she’s made friends with another resident who she helps with day-to-day living.

“That’s given Mom a sense of purpose,” says Giebelhaus.


Workshop can help families deal with impact of Alzheimer’s

The Alzheimer Society of B.C. is sponsoring a free, one-day family caregiver workshop to help people deal with the issues family care creates.

Topics include understanding Alzheimer disease and other dementias; effective and creative ways of facilitating communication with a person with dementia; problem-solving for the responsive behaviours; and self-care for the caregiver.

Pre-registration is required.

Call the Central Island Alzheimer Resource Centre toll-free at 1-800-462-2833 or email

The event is set for June 2, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the St. Ann’s Garden Club building at Providence Farm, 1843 Tzouhalem Rd.

Participants are asked to bring a bag lunch.




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