December 27, 2018 9:09 pm

Toronto man shares impact of wife’s dementia diagnosis

A Toronto man is breathing a sigh of relief after a missing elderly woman with Alzheimer's was found safe Wednesday night. He opens up about his wife's diagnosis and offers some advice to caregivers feeling overwhelmed. Shallima Maharaj reports.

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It was nearly a decade ago that Larry Singer says he began noticing signs of dementia in his wife.

Sylvia now lives in long-term care, and he visits her two to three times every week. Life has changed, but their love endures.

“She’ll be in my heart forever,” he told Global News. “Nothing can destroy that.”

Together for 27 years, it wasn’t until Oct. 4, 2016 that the couple began living apart.

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This year, Singer was able to spend the holidays with friends, though it was no easy feat getting to that point and granting himself a licence to live again.

READ MORE: Experts call for care model in ‘the language of dementia’ after Alzheimer’s run

“It was an absolute disaster because I was operating with one arm, one leg, half my heart and half my brain,” he recalls of his first holiday alone.

As someone who used to be a caregiver, he urges those still looking after loved ones to ensure their own well-being isn’t being compromised.

Singer, who is in his 70s, credits the support of his family, friends and the Alzheimer Society with allowing him to build a life of his own.

Like many others, he paid close attention to the search for 75-year-old Shirley Lee, who went missing in Scarborough the night of Christmas Eve, prompting a tireless search by police, family, friends and total strangers.

Then, after 9 p.m. on Wednesday, she was located by a member of the public. Apart from being cold, she was safe.

When Singer found out, he was overcome with emotion.

“I cried, I did. I choked up because of the work done by the TPS (Toronto Police Service) and the media and because I can relate to how her family must have been feeling,” he said.

As of Friday afternoon, Toronto police said Lee was still in hospital with family members by her side.

READ MORE: Ontario family shares the effects Alzheimer’s has had on them

Speaking to Global News about dealing with dementia during the holidays, Dr. Sharon Cohen said the hustle and bustle of the season can bring out the symptoms of dementia.

“Also, seeing people when you haven’t seen them in a while can bring these surprises forward,” she added.

Cohen is the medical director of the Toronto Memory Program. From mood to conversation, there are a number of behaviours that she recommends people monitor in those who may be dealing with dementia.

“Is there more word searching? Not knowing people’s names? Repeating the same things over and over? Talking about more things in the past than what’s gone on recently?” she said.

She also points to whether loved ones seem more irritable or anxious. On the flip side, they may also be more apathetic or withdrawn.

According to Cohen, these can be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

If they do exhibit uncharacteristic behaviours, Cohen recommends gently pointing out what you have noticed.

“‘Dad, I see you didn’t put the lights on the tree this year. Any reason?’…see what the answers are. See if they add up,” she said.

However, Cohen cautions that not everything may be symptomatic of Alzheimer’s. She recommends reaching out to a family doctor for more information.

If your loved one is reluctant to do that, contact organizations like the Alzheimer Society.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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