NNSL Photo/Graphic

NNSL photo/graphic

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page
'The main thing is that she is happy'
Alzheimer's fundraiser prompts reflection on debilitating disease; event marks awareness month for brain disorder

Simon Whitehouse
Northern News Services
Monday, February 1, 2016

Alzheimer's disease has made the late stages of Marnie Morrison's life difficult.

NNSL photo/graphic

Marnie Morrison, left, a sufferer of Alzheimer's disease, sits with her daughter Karen Sunderland, right at the fourth annual high tea fundraiser put on by the Alzheimer's Society of Alberta and the NWT last Saturday. - Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

Morrison, 90, who lives at Avens Manor, attended the Alzheimer's Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories' high-tea fundraiser with her daughter, Karen Sunderland, Jan. 23.

The tea was the fourth annual event put on by the society to mark Alzheimer's Awareness Month and drew about 100 people to Northern United Place.

Sunderland said although it was the first time she attended with Morrison, the family has experienced the continued changes surrounding the illness since Morrison was diagnosed with it six years ago. She said the event like the tea is important because it gives the opportunity to be in touch with others dealing with it.

"She is not doing that well," Sunderland said. "She is 90 and she has gone downhill since Christmas. It is to be expected and I know that now. But it has taken me a long time to understand that that is the way it is going to go."

Morrison had been living with Sunderland and her husband for a number of years before the decision was made to move the elderly woman into Aven Manor about two years ago because Morrison's needs became increasingly demanding.

Sunderland said she couldn't be there for her mother all the time.

"Forgetfulness is an early onset at the very beginning," she said. "That just progresses and gets worse as they go along. They may just start forgetting every-day things but remember their past very clearly. As it progresses, they will forget about their past too. People that she doesn't see on a constant basis or isn't shown pictures of, she doesn't know."

Sunderland said, for example, that she has a son and two grandsons who Morrison sees infrequently. They have to be reintroduced each time they see her.

She said her biggest priority is seeing that her mother is content, which sometimes means taking a step back from making judgment calls that might interfere with the woman's independence.

"The main thing is that she is happy and that she is well cared for," Sunderland said. "At first it used to bother me that she wasn't wearing the right outfit with matching colours or wasn't doing what I thought was the right thing. But what I think doesn't matter."

Kathryn Youngblut, a supporter of the society, lives in the cottages at Avens Manor and said she lives with many neighbours at various stages of the disease.

"I have also known people who have died with Alzheimer's and I am getting at the age where I could possibly get it," she said.

Youngblut said one of the most important aspects to understand is that the illness is not just a natural part of the aging process.

Christene Gordon, director of client services for the Alzheimer's society, was the main speaker Saturday and pointed out that historically, the illness has not been well understood.

Common threads exist with the illness, which include that it tends to affect people who are aging, although not necessarily. For example, she stated that one in seven people older than 65 will develop some type of dementia, while one in three older than 80 will suffer from it.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.