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Canadian soccer icon aims to lessen Alzheimer’s stigma by sharing his family’s story

Breakfast to Remember
WATCH: Canadian soccer legend Bob Lenarduzzi spoke Tuesday morning at the inaugural Breakfast to Remember.

Canadian soccer icon Bob Lenarduzzi was in the Okanagan Tuesday to talk about how his family dealt with the pain of Alzheimer’s.

The soccer legend watched Alzheimer’s take his father-in-law almost 10 years ago, and more recently, his own mother died after a diagnosis of dementia.

“The good days are good and they are few and far between,” Lenarduzzi told the crowd, recalling how during visits with his father-in-law, he tried to do things to make him laugh.

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The Hall of Fame inductee and former Vancouver Whitecaps president said he was sharing his story at the Alzheimer Society of B.C. fundraising breakfast, in order to help raise awareness around the degenerative disease and “lessen the stigma.”

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“Regardless of the magnitude of the dementia, you are a person and you want to be treated as a person,” Lenarduzzi said.

In a candid speech, Lenarduzzi shared with the crowd his family’s story and his personal experiences dealing with his family members’ diagnoses.

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Lenarduzzi said there were days, during his mother’s illness, where he left the house thinking, “Oh dear, she doesn’t like me anymore.”

“But it wasn’t her, it was was the illness,” he said.

Attendees at the Tuesday morning event also heard from Craig Burns, a Kelowna Alzheimer’s advocate, and a man who is currently losing his memory, judgment and ability to function due to the disorder.

“The stigma is there. When you say ‘Alzheimer’s,’ sometimes people don’t know what to say,” Burns said.

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After living with Alzheimer’s for almost four years, Burns told the audience, the diagnosis hasn’t changed who he is as a person, saying the illness doesn’t define him but that it has altered his life significantly.

He said he experienced relief at finally getting a diagnosis but also despair and hope.

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Despite the roller-coaster of emotions caused by learning he has Alzheimer’s, Burns stressed the importance of an early diagnosis of dementia.

“If you are having trouble with memory…an early diagnosis really makes a difference. It is a significant difference in quality of life for a person living with dementia” he said, encouraging people to visit their doctor if they suspect something is wrong.

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“It will make a world of difference for your life.”

Getting a diagnosis is one area where the Alzheimer Society of B.C. is hoping its First Link dementia phone line can help.

“Anyone can phone the line anywhere in the province and can get instant connection to information, support and education about what they may be wondering about,” explained society spokesperson Maria Howard.

The dementia helpline can be reached at these numbers during business hours:

English: 1-800-936-6033
Cantonese and Mandarin: 1-833-674-5007
Punjabi: 1-833-674-5003