A Mother and Daughter Story: Both Too Young to Live It
In retrospect, it all made sense when Rachel and Justyn added up all the ‘memory events’ seen with their mother, Chantal. But leading up to that one climatic and defining incident, how could two teenagers fully understand what was really happening? They didn’t know why their mother’s behaviour had changed but things didn’t seem right. And being only 45, why would these two teens suspect their mother could have dementia? If they did know for sure, what could they be expected to do?
Rachel Broderick, 16 years old at the time and her 18 year old brother, Justyn, certainly had questions when their mom didn’t remember certain things like picking them up after school or from a friend’s house. Particularly, they wondered why their mom would argue with them about those incidents; Chantal was convinced her kids hadn’t talked to her to make those arrangements. They told their dad, Todd, about their experiences and worries with their mom but since Todd and Chantal had been separated for over 10 years and he now lived two hours away in Brampton, it was a very difficult situation for all of them to fully understand and evaluate.
Unfortunately, it became all too clear one day in 2015. Chantal had gone for a ride in the family van and ran out of gas about a 1 ½ hours out from Owen Sound, ending up close to Orillia. Instead of using her cell phone to call for help, she left the vehicle and started walking. Later, when Chantal was found by the police, she couldn’t explain who she was, what had happened or why she was there.
For the family, this point in time finally unveiled the extreme reality of their situation. Chantal was experiencing symptoms of young onset Alzheimer’s disease. To support his family, Todd would come to Owen Sound on weekends and for extended periods, taking time off work. The teens and the father became a united family again in the care of Chantal. The irony, or perhaps more accurately, the ironies of the situation were fierce; a family brought back together to support each other and cope with a disease that is genetic: potentially passed from generation to generation.
A variant that is seen in less than 5% of all cases of Alzheimer’s - familial Alzheimer’s disease.
The second irony was that the family had a resource they were able to refer to once they finally understood Chantal’s diagnosis; a large binder of dementia information that Chantal had helped develop as a founder and then executive director of a special community-based organization whose goal it was to provide resources for living with, and gaining knowledge of, dementia. Her tireless work towards that goal saw her accomplish much; establishing the charitable status and incorporation for the organization, establishing a Board and recruitment of members, grassroots fundraising, grant applications and most importantly, the development of dementia support programming. And thus, in the late 1990’s, the Alzheimer Society of Dufferin County was born. What was Chantal’s motivation for this work? Her own mother had herself been diagnosed with young onset Alzheimer’s. Now Chantal’s family was using the same resources that she had helped create.
After the car incident that brought to light the full understanding of Chantal’s condition, things progressed quickly. One day in the winter of 2016, she slipped and fell when she was out walking the family dog. She was taken to the Owen Sound hospital to determine if she had broken her hand. What was expected to be a short emergency room visit became an indefinite stay. During treatment the staff recognized her cognitive abilities to be impaired. Chantal stayed at the hospital for six months and then finally moved into a long-term care facility.
Within 14 months, Chantal, the loving, positive and outgoing mother Rachel had idolized and aspired to become, passed away.
This April, 2019, Rachel turns 18. She is planning to get genetic testing done. She has some thoughts as to what her life plan will be – all to be dictated by the outcome of the testing. What she wants to do now however, is to share the story of her mother and her family to bring awareness to the myth that Alzheimer’s disease is only an old person’s disease.
She also is sharing her story for her own healing. As a teenager experiencing the young onset dementia journey of a parent, she felt she couldn’t talk to her friends about what was happening with her mother. How could anyone understand the fears and anxiety all of this brought her?
Another part of that healing process is to participate in an awareness and fundraising event that supports people living with dementia; the IG Wealth Management Walk For Alzheimer’s. In May 2018, Rachel walked with family members in Owen Sound to honour her mother and to raise funds for dementia support programs and services delivered by the Alzheimer Society, the organization that meant so much to Chantal.
For Rachel, the publication of her story supports the Walk and provides her with another therapeutic opportunity to discuss her dementia journey. It also serves to bring a better understanding to people of the realities of living with Alzheimer’s; both for the person diagnosed and for that person’s family.
The journey can be long or as in Rachel’s family’s story, short, but whatever the duration, it is always profound. It is also important for Rachel, and for all of us, for it to be shared.