Calgary Health Trust

Love, Honour and Cherish

What happens when your loved one is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's? For Bob Schmaus, that wasn't even a question; he would take care of his wife no matter what. They had already been married for 40 years when his lovely wife Ida was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in November of 2000.

"I quite frankly was in denial and Ida wouldn't go back to her doctor after that diagnosis," he said. "But I really noticed a change after she had a stroke in December." It didn't stop his desire to care for her; instead Bob juggled working and caring for her as best he could.

But the task took its toll and Bob retired shortly after her diagnosis. Three years later, as Ida's disease progressed, he found it was too hard to care for her on his own. He realized that he needed help from others and contacted the Family Caregiver Centre in Calgary. Soon Bob was meeting with the manager of the program. 

"They set up respite care (home care) and I took part in a monthly caregiver's support group," he said. The group gave Bob information and assistance with his struggles during Ida's illness.

After Ida passed away in 2008, Bob was approached by the Family Caregiver Centre about a new program called Memory P.L.U.S. (Practice, Laughter, Useful Strategies). They thought he would be interested in volunteering with the program to help others whose loved ones were suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's.

Currently there are more than 500,000  Canadians
living with dementia. It is projected that the number
of new cases among Canadians age 65 years will
increase 2.5 times between 2008 and 2038.

Beverly Hillman, a recreation therapist, runs the program. Supported by a social worker who assists the caregivers through a support group, and a handful of volunteers such as Bob, the program has helped over 80 couples since 2008. 

It is common that both the caregiver and the person with dementia withdraw from society and resist help from others. Memory P.L.U.S. is designed to draw them out. Initial sessions include social activities, music, memory games and exercises, and have a positive impact on quality of life. During this time the caregivers meet together with the social worker three times in the 12 weeks for support sessions.

The services and programs provided by the Family Caregiver Centre impact the lives of family caregivers in many ways. It reduces burnout, ensures better informed and skilled caregivers, increases ability to balance responsibilities and delays the need for formalized care.

The demand for this program, and others like it, is on the rise. Currently there are more than 500,000 Canadians living with dementia and it is projected that the number of new cases among Canadians age 65 years and older is expected to increase 2.5 times between 2008 and 2038.

Cheryl Henry, Manager of Senior's Health Education and Quality Initiatives for AHS in Calgary, said, "Couples dealing with illnesses such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease are on different roads, but the same journey. Groups like Memory P.L.U.S. are an essential anchor in their life...and these groups often become a family unto themselves."

The Memory P.L.U.S. program is just one part of the Family Caregiver Centre. To attend participants must have been diagnosed by a doctor as having mild or early dementia or Alzheimer's. The Centre offers support for people who take care of sick or elderly relatives.

Bob believes the program makes an incredible difference in the lives of people diagnosed with memory loss, and the loved ones who care for them. "I wish the Memory P.L.U.S. program had been there when I was caring for Ida," he said.

As Canadians get older, this type of memory related illness will affect more and more people. They will need medical support. And the partners and families of those suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's disease, or other serious health problems will also need support. To support this program you can donate to Memory P.L.U.S. look for our letter in your mailbox this April. To find out more information contact Christy Robson, Annual Giving Officer, or call 403-943-0634.