When Pat married Jack Eastgate nearly 50 years ago, she never thought that she would one day become her husband’s caregiver.
But once the Brandon couple entered their early 70s, Jack developed a severe form of dementia that Pat says has changed their lives and challenged their relationship.
Yet it hasn’t affected her husband’s positive take on life.
“Jack hasn’t changed, he’s always been a very funny fellow and he still is,” Pat Eastgate said.
“There’s challenges every day, we change things around but we have a lot of humour in our life.”
Nearly four years ago, Jack was diagnosed with vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. It affects his speed of thought, concentration, memory loss and communication.
Following a stroke nearly seven years ago, Jack started having difficulty speaking and walking and had vision problems, but Pat says the lack of communication between them has been the hardest thing she’s had to adjust to.
“We were always talking about things and discussing things, now there isn’t that anymore,” she says.
“He doesn’t make any decisions for himself so when you ask him if he wants cereal or toast he just says, ‘well, whatever,’ so that’s been hard.”
Although their life together has been challenged by Jack’s dementia, Pat still believes in staying active within the community by delivering Meals on Wheels and sharing the effects of his disease with local support groups and community members.
“I believe in being outgoing with the dementia, mentioning it to other people and the support group is great. I think it would make things more difficult to keep this locked up inside you.”
Sharing the effects of dementia is part of the idea behind the launch of the Alzheimer Society’s new nationwide campaign, “See me, not my disease. Let’s talk about dementia,” which aims to address the myths and stereotypes surrounding the disease while spreading awareness about dementia.
“There’s a lot of common stereotyping so we’re just looking at people wanting to see the individual and not the disease,” Grace Loewen, program co-ordinator at the Alzheimer Society Westman region office said.
“Some people with dementia will feel that they’re not being treated fairly and it’s important for people to know that people with dementia are still people with unique strengths and abilities.”
A portion of the campaign is available on the Alzheimer Society website, alzheimer.ca, where people can take the “Test your attitude” quiz, which Loewen says challenges Canadians to change the conversation about dementia.
“Hopefully by doing this people will learn some information and bring to light how they are responding to people with this disease.”
Loewen says thanks to early detection and public awareness, over the years she has noticed more and more people taking advantage of the program and services offered at the local Alzheimer Society office.
“I’m finding more and more clients that are coming in their 60s and even younger and that might be due to better awareness.”
Loewen says that there are currently nearly 20,000 people in Manitoba with a form of Alzheimer’s disease including 2,500 under the age of 65.