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Growing Alzheimer’s group keeps sharing experiences

At first, Karen Hartigan suspected her husband Lawrence’s mood swings, memory loss and depression were related to his medication.

At first, Karen Hartigan suspected her husband Lawrence’s mood swings, memory loss and depression were related to his medication.

At the time, he was taking drugs for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.

But changes to his drugs didn’t work, and as he became more aggressive and his depression grew to include comments about suicide, he was finally diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2011 at the age of 63.

“For him, it was very fast. Some people seem to plateau and stay at a level for a long time,” said Karen Hartigan, 64, of Innisfail.

And there was no history of Alzheimer’s in his family.

Hartigan said she learned from the specialist who diagnosed her husband that the combination of having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, even if it’s controlled by medicine, will likely lead to some form of dementia.

“Although Lawrence worked — he was a workaholic — he never exercised. Stay healthy and get your exercise,” Hartigan warned.

Shortly after his diagnosis, Hartigan found out that the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories had an office in Red Deer.

She said their support group for spouses of Alzheimer patients really helped her by sharing their knowledge.

“By hearing the other people tell their stories, you know what is more or less coming next, what to look for. There is so much that can happen, you don’t realize.”

Now Hartigan is passing on her experiences to newer members of the group that has about 30 members.

Janice Fogarty, community relations manager at the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories Red Deer and Central Alberta office, said attendance at the monthly meetings has grown from about a dozen two years ago.

Now the chapter is looking to move into a larger space to accommodate the growing interest.

“We are limited by what we can offer right now because of the space we’re in,” Fogarty said.

A support group for adult children of Alzheimer’s patients that started about a year ago now has 10 regular members.

The chapter would also like to provide programming for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

“Last year for our First Link program, we had 85 new referrals. Those are people recently given diagnosis of a dementia.”

On June 21, the Investors Group Memory Walk will be held at Sunnybrook Farm Museum.

The money raised will support Alzheimer’s programs and services offered in Red Deer and Central Alberta.

Registration starts at 4 p.m. with the walk beginning at 5. To register, go to www.alzheimer.ab.ca or call 403-342-0448.

This year, the Red Deer and Central Alberta chapter wants to raise $40,000. In 2013, a total of $36,200 was raised.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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