Community comes together to support Alzheimer’s caregivers

Jocelyn Turner
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Jack Hilchey goes through all the pamphlets and information he was given when his wife was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Hilchey has started a support group to help others sort through all the information on the disease and what to expect. 

AMHERST – Your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The doctor has given you all these pamphlets to help you understand their new diagnosis.

For Jack Hiltchey, the diagnosis and new pamphlets to read through was all a little overwhelming.

“My wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s quite a few years ago,” he said. “All the problems I went through beforehand and things I did that I shouldn’t have done could have been avoided if I had help.”

He said he wasn’t aware of some of the habits his wife developed such as insisting that their home was not where they lived. Hilchey said he fought and argued with her, trying to convince her that it was indeed their home.

“I tried to change her mind to think like it did the way before,” he said. “You’re not supposed to argue with them. You change the subject and get along with them. In their mind, that’s the way it is. You can’t change it.”

Hilchey said didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to argue with his wife. He said there was no one in town for him to talk to about dealing with her new behaviour so he contacted the Alzheimer’s Society, which sent him a package of information.

“With this disease, you get the feeling that you can’t fix it,” he said. “How do you deal with it? Inside, turmoil builds up because you’re trying to get your loved one back to how they used to be and you’re running up against a brick wall all the time.”

After the passing of his wife a few years ago, Hilchey wanted a way to help others who are struggling the way he was. He went to a few information sessions put on by the Alzheimer’s Society and, with a little help from challenging behaviour resource consultant Dianne Arden, he  started his own support group for.

“When Hilchey first met me, I don’t think we had any Alzheimer’s related support groups,” she said. “We came together with the Alzheimer’s Society of Nova Scotia and started two groups, Hilchey’s support group and the Tri-County Dementia Support group in Tatamagouche, which services Cumberland, Colchester and Pictou County because it’s s central.”

Although there is some help available such as respite bed and VON nurses that come to the home to provide caregivers with a few hours a week to have some time to themselves, Arden said the most beneficial is meeting up with other caregivers and learning from their experiences.

“Reading is great but that’s why he started the support group so we could, as co-facilitators, have a safe and confidential place for people to come and discuss with each other what works, and what doesn’t work, for instance,” said Arden. “A couple people from the support group said it’s a great place to come and see people going through some of the same things you are, helps to learn what you might experience in the coming months or years, and getting support from other group members.”

Arden said there is one member of the group who still attends the meetings even though her husband has passed on. She said some caregivers come with other family members to share their experiences and learn to cope with the struggles they are going to face while they care for their loved one with Alzheimer’s.

“It’s like when I was a young nurse in the maternity ward,” she said. “I hadn’t had any children so I had no idea what labour and delivery was like because I had just read about it in textbooks. After having my first child, I had a whole new understanding and empathy for these new mothers.”

The Tri-County Dementia support group meets the second Thursday of each month at Willow Lodge in Tatamagouche from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. The Caregiver Support Group in Amherst meets on the last Thursday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Continuing Care building, 71 Victoria St.

For more information about the Tri County Dementia Support Group, contact Inez Daye at 1-902-657-9336 or Dianne Arden at 667-6469. For more information about the support group in Amherst, contact Jack Hilchey at 667-7084.

Organizations: Society of Nova Scotia, Tri-County Dementia Support, Caregiver Support Group Tri County Dementia Support Group

Geographic location: AMHERST, Tatamagouche, Colchester Pictou County Victoria

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