Tobie Seligman’s mother used to be very social. She always cooked and her home was open for anyone to visit at any time. Today, her mother sits at a family dinner in silence wrapped up in her own little world and has no friends. At the age of 80, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. “She started forgetting things like taking her medication. She would take money out from bank and forget where she put it. I no longer felt comfortable with her living at home alone,” said Seligman.
Seligman says her life was turned upside down with news of her mother’s diagnosis. Her once independent mother could no longer drive and was now dependent on her to keep track of appointments and to get her there and back. What was more stressful was watching her mother change. “I would often drop her off and start crying. I could cry every day but I try not to.”
With approximately half a million Canadians suffering from Dementia, Seligman is just one of the thousands of people struggling with the demanding responsibilities of caregiving. Most caregivers are women and according to the 2010 Shriver Report on Alzheimer’s more than half of them report serious emotional and physical stress as a result of caring for their loved ones.
Unsure of what to do and how to cope, Seligman joined a support group at Baycrest, an academic health sciences centre with a focus on Brain Fitness. It was an opportunity for her to hear from others in a similar situation and learn from their experience. “We did a lot of talking and it really helped. It changed my life. I learned that I was not alone and got stronger as it went along.”
Life improved for Seligman, she says, when she hired a live-in caregiver for her mother. “It was the best thing that ever happened to us. I got my life back.” Seligman began to work more and to exercise. She took guitar lessons and took advantage of opportunities to talk about it and take care of herself. She makes it a point of giving the caregiver a break and takes her mom out for dinner every so often.
Her mother’s situation has not improved but Seligman is learning to cope. By talking about it and seeking help, Seligman’s days are a bit brighter despite living in the shadows of Alzheimer’s.