Alzheimer’s: Making the Global Personal

Today’s blog comes from Lydia Lanman, Senior Manager, Policy and Government Relations at Eli Lilly Canada. 

Lydia Cropped

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, with World Alzheimer’s Day taking place on September 21. I could use this time to focus on the global impact of Alzheimer’s disease, or options available to policy makers to help ensure Canada is ready to address Alzheimer’s. Instead, I’d like to take something that is global and make it local and personal.

My grandmother was diagnosed with dementia in the mid-1990s. At the time, our family was told that it was likely Alzheimer’s disease, but that the only way to get a conclusive diagnosis would be at autopsy. What we didn’t know at the time was the extent to which dementia and Alzheimer’s disease had already started to have an effect on her.

After my grandfather, her husband, had passed away in 2001, she found herself living alone in their home. It became apparent that he had been minimizing the extent of her challenges. There was a series of Alzheimer’s ‘turning points’ --- those moments when it becomes clear that what’s happening is a lot more than just ‘forgetting things sometimes.’ She would forget to eat because she couldn’t recall that the food was located in her kitchen. Sometimes when she made soup she would forget and leave the stove on for hours. There was a time that she forgot she had fallen and didn’t remember why her wrist hurt. It wasn’t until days later when her son noticed she was favouring it. An x-ray later showed it was broken.

These moments were a wake-up call that propelled our family to ensure she got the care she really needed. She was moved from her house to a seniors lodge in her community, where many of her friends already lived. While the transition to her new home wasn’t completely painless, in time she began enjoying the routine and structure. But like many people who have Alzheimer’s, her disease progressed, and she got worse. She was moved to a lodge specifically for Alzheimer’s patients and then finally a palliative care unit where she passed away at the age of 93.

Now that my work at Lilly focuses on Alzheimer’s disease, I often reflect back at this time in our family’s history. I think about my grandmother and how her world changed. I also think about my own mother and her brother, as her caregivers, and what it meant to them to watch their mother slowly deteriorate. And, I know our family in not alone; this isn’t only our story. Hundreds of thousands of Canadian families are being impacted by Alzheimer’s disease today, tomorrow, next year and for years before and after a diagnosis. 

During World Alzheimer’s Month, and on World Alzheimer’s Day, my experience reminds me that Alzheimer’s disease isn’t just global--it’s local and it’s ultimately personal. That’s why Lilly continues to invest in research aimed at diagnosing the disease earlier and finding treatments that can potentially change the course of Alzheimer’s. It is for people like my grandmother and for families like mine.

Do you have a personal story about the impact of Alzheimer’s disease? Share your message for World Alzheimer’s Month with Alzheimer’s Disease International here.  Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtags #WAM2016 and #RememberMe.  

For more information on Alzheimer’s disease, and resources for local support in your community, please visit alzheimer.ca.