Special to TC weeklies
Jean Trend of Grand Falls-Windsor had yet to celebrate her 60th birthday when she began experiencing subtle symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease about six years ago. A mother, wife, nurse, mid-wife, massage therapist and avid volunteer,Jean had always been a caregiver rather than somebody needing care.
John and Jean Trend have been married for over 40 years. John is a retired dentist from Grand Falls-Windsor. The couple has three grown children and three grandchildren.
Jean was initially diagnosed with depression. However, by 2006, health professionals felt she could be suffering from some form of dementia.
After Jean was assessed by a neurologist, the couple was told that Jean likely suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
Over time, John said, his wife’s symptoms worsened.
“Jean’s short term memory began to go. When she was speaking with people she’d tell them the same story two or three times during the conversation. She lost her ability to do anything dealing with our finances which was something she’d always done,” he recalls.
By 2009, the disease had progressed to a point where Jean could not perform her own personal care.
“Jean has other medical problems (diverticulosis). She’s had three operations and each time they knocked her well back. She never got back to where she was prior to the operations. So that made the course of her illness faster than it might otherwise have been,” said her husband.
After an assessment by medical professionals determined that his wife needed long term care, John was told that a bed was not available. As his wife’s main caregiver, he said, that was upsetting.
Fortunately, John said, a bed became available about four months after the determination was made that she needed long term care.
Jean was placed in the Dr. Hugh Twomey Health Centre in Botwood in 2010. She is now being cared for at Carmelite House, in Grand Falls-Windsor. The care she received in Botwood as well as the care she has been getting since moving into Carmelite House has been excellent, John said.
But, because of the nature of her illness, Jean’s health continues to deteriorate.
Whether or not his wife of over four decades recognizes him is difficult to tell, John said. He likes to believe she does.
“She certainly knows that I’m someone that she knows; that I’m someone special to her. She smiles when I go in. She might know that I’m there with her or that I’m feeding her but she doesn’t react to anything I say.”
Caregivers, as well as those with the disease, need continuous support, John said. His family gets that support through the Alzheimer’s Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“They have a lot of information and that helps you realize that you’re not on your own, that there are people who understand your situation and who can help you.”
The society also helped his family learn more about preparing various documents that Jean will eventually need, including a will, a power of attorney and an advanced health care directive.
“If you get those things done early on, it makes the journey much easier,” he says.
From a caregiver’s perspective, John said, it’s important that the spouse and other family members have support outside the home.
“I’m a member of the Kiwanis Club. The members and their spouses have been very supportive.”
The members were also supportive during Jean’s early diagnosis when she was also able to attend meetings, with assistance, John said.
Early into her diagnosis, Jean became an advocate for people with the disease and often spoke of the sadness she felt for the loss of her future.
“I am still the same me inside and I want, need and deserve to be treated with the respect I have always had,” are words attributed to Jean in a calendar produced by the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada.
Shirley Lucas, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, said 7,681 people in this province have Alzheimer’s disease. According to her, about half of these individuals are in long term care facilities throughout the province.
Lucas says Alzheimer’s affect not just seniors. She’s seen people in their forties with the disease.
“It’s a disease of many faces and many different ages. It can happen to anybody.”