Support helps pair live with Alzheimer’s

Making the most of life . . . Barry Thomson, with his latest craft project, and his wife Heather, relax at their Abbotsford home. PHOTO: ELLA STOKES

Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is a life-changing event but for one Abbotsford couple, it’s made them focus on the positives in life.

Barry Thomson (76) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2002.

Mr Thomson and his wife, Heather Thomson, have learned to “just get on with life and deal with what we’re dealing with”.

People think “you’re a bit wonky when you tell them you have Alzheimer’s” but really, it’s just a disease, he said.

Mr Thomson said since he had been diagnosed, sometimes his memory would go blank when he was talking. He knew what he wanted to say but the words would not come out.

However, Mr Thomson showed no signs of slowing down and said “having a rotten sense of humour” helped him stay positive.

Keeping day-to-day life simple and in routine, such as always putting the keys in the same place and not having too much stuff in the house, had been a big help.

One group in particular had been a significant help to the couple.

The Forget-Me-Not Group is offered by Alzheimers Society Otago and is run by members who have the disease and those who care for them.

Mr and Mrs Thomson joined the group when Mr Thomson was first diagnosed and are still involved.

Alzheimers Society Otago manager Julie Butler said it was a great group, as it was set up for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s to help them with socialisation.

When people joined, they did a seven-week course that addressed ways to cope with the disease. Also, neuroscientists, psychologists and nutritionists taught them about memory loss.

The group also had social events and outings.

After the course, there was a yearly refresher that gave people the opportunity to meet new members.

Mrs Butler said it retained normalcy in people’s lives and raised awareness in the community.

The group also helped teach family and friends about what their loved ones were experiencing.

Being involved in the group had taught the Thomsons a lot and it had “become like family”, Mr Thomson said.

“You have to keep social”, otherwise it could get a bit lonely, he said.

For more information on memory loss, contact Julie Butler, (03) 474-1741.

Forget-Me-Not group, phone Susan Miller, (03) 474-1741.