There are many faces of Alzheimer’s disease, Canadian society says in new campaign

Kathryn Fudurich was only 21 when her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2010.

Fudurich was in her last year of university. After she graduated, she put her career on hold for several years for a bigger challenge: to move back home to take care of her mom.

Her mother, Patricia, was only 54 at the time of diagnosis. While the pair may sound like they’re too young to be touched by dementia, they want fellow Canadians to know they are the face of Alzheimer’s disease.

“I didn’t find anyone going through what I was going through. I found myself finding comfort and relatability with people in their 40s and 50s who were losing their parents,” Fudurich told Global News.

“People are used to seeing a face in her 50s sitting next to her aging mom. That isn’t the only image of Alzheimer’s out there,” she explained.

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On Tuesday, the Alzheimer Society of Canada launched its new awareness campaign about the cognitive disease. For 2017, it decided to focus on shedding light on the many faces of Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s not just their disease. It’s ours, too. Dementia is a disease that affects us all, people we see in our daily lives and in our communities. And with each passing year, 25,000 more Canadians are diagnosed,” according to Mary Schulz, director of education at the society.

READ MORE: What are the early warning signs and symptoms of dementia?

She said friends, families and people at your workplace and in your neighbourhood are dealing with the personal and social impact of dementia. Our health-care system and economy are also grappling with an aging population and the higher demand for services.

Right now, dementia is one of the fastest growing diseases in the world. It doesn’t discriminate and can affect anyone. It also has no cure or effective treatments.

About 564,000 Canadians are living with dementia. In 15 years, that number is estimated to increase by 66 per cent to 937,000.

READ MORE: Why docs say these mood changes are a warning sign for Alzheimer’s

When Fudurich’s mom was diagnosed, the whole family was affected. Patricia decided to stop driving because she’d get lost and confused at night. She needed help with taking her medications on schedule. She relied on her family to help her with paying bills and staying on top of finances.

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“Things had to really change. She was really upset, she was in disbelief, and denial – she didn’t remember all the time that she had [Alzheimer’s], she just knew something was wrong with her. She was really unhappy about that and not being able to do things,” Fudurich explained.

At first, Fudurich assisted by helping her mom pick outfits for the day, preparing dinner or practicing with memory at doctors’ appointments.

“I’d try to quiz her before we went in.  Then I’d tell her to remember five words from the meeting,” Fudurich said.

READ MORE: These are the jobs that protect your brain from Alzheimer’s, dementia

But as the years progressed, Patricia’s cognitive health declined. Now her family helps her eat meals using utensils, they dress her, feed her medication and count on private home care to bathe her, for example.

It was hard for Fudurich, who spent about 4 and a half years freelancing in film editing, while looking after her mom. Because the conventional caregiver is about two decades older, Fudurich felt moments of isolation and had trouble relating with her peers.

When she opened up to a friend about her mom’s diagnosis, she learned of another young woman who was going through the same experience. They connected.

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READ MORE: 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease

Within time, they started an event called Memory Ball, which is celebrating its sixth anniversary in April. It raises awareness about dementia to younger Canadians.

“We ourselves had been so surprised by how little we knew about this and how alone we felt before we met one another. We wanted to do an event,” Fudurich said.

“It’s hard to understand when you don’t experience it and it’s hard to talk about it when you worry about making other people uncomfortable. We thought there must be other people like us going through this,” she said.

Fudurich said Canadians should consider the varying profiles of people touched by dementia. That’s why she decided to share her story.

“I hope it helps someone else so they don’t feel as confused as I felt,” she told Global News.

Read more about #InitForAlz here.

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