It started with the odd slip-up - a forgotten name or the repetition of a conversation that had taken place just minutes before.
From there, Heather Andrews watched her father's condition regress into significant memory loss and frustration.
Andrews' father James Little - who often went by his middle name, Gord - suffered from Alzheimer's disease for close to a decade before his death two years ago.
In light of January being designated Alzheimer's Awareness Month throughout Canada, Andrews is sharing her story of life with a loved one who experienced the seemingly random disease.
"You need patience and you need empathy," said Andrews, a 58-yearold Coquitlam resident. "I have seen people become frustrated with people with Alzheimer's. But they're not acting that way to piss you off. It's not something intentional. You have to chill out and get used to it."
A long-standing PoCo resident before his death, Little began to show signs of his condition about nine years ago. Those initial indicators were not uncommon to those suffering from the disease: increasing instances of forgetfulness, repeating a conversation that had already taken place, and a rise in anxiety and frustration.
In fact, one incident sticks out in Andrews' mind as the tell-tale sign that something was awry. Having just finished watching a movie with her dad, he compared the movie's plot to one he had previously watched.
Minutes later, he recalled that same comparison.
"From that point forward, he often repeated himself and would then say, 'I've asked you that before, haven't I?'" Andrews recalled. "He'd get frustrated quite a bit and we could feel the frustration. But it was frustrating for him more so than [the rest of the family]."
In order to cope with her dad's memory loss - and to not highlight his forgetfulness in front of him - Andrews developed a system of "dancing around" conversations. If her dad repeated something, she would simply respond by wording things differently, or approaching the conversation in a different manner.
"You just have to try and be patient," she said. "You have to try and dance around it and find different ways to approach it so that they don't become more frustrated. The more frustrated they become, it makes
the anxiety that much more fierce."
Those tenets of patience, empathy and acceptance will be at the forefront of a free clinic that will take place Wednesday, Feb. 6 in PoCo.
Hosted by representatives from Home Instead Senior Care, the hour-long workshop will teach attendees how to manage behaviours, encourage engagement and care for themselves while caring for their loved one.
"The most important thing for a caregiver is that you get enough rest," said Sharon Scramstad, general manager of the PoCo outlet of Home Instead Senior Care.
"Proper nutrition is also key. A lot times when we're looking after someone else, we're focusing on their needs instead of our own. We'll make sure that they eat at the proper time, but then we're not looking after ourselves."
Scramstad characterized Alzheimer's as a completely random disease, one that typically affects those in their 70s or 80s.
Thought to be the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer's is caused by buildups of plaque on the brain that inhibit the nerves within the organ.
"Where there used to be nerves running through that can communicate things from one part of the brain to the other, that's no longer there," she explained.
"That's why there's gaps. Everybody responds differently depending on what area of the brain is affected by these plaques."
At the Feb. 6 workshop, those in attendance will be given tips around how to access support in the community, manage and mitigate difficult behaviours, and help those affected by Alzheimer's retrieve some semblance of their memory.
"The No. 1 thing I can say [to caregivers] is don't try to do it alone," Scramstad said. "You see the strain it causes on them and how exhausting and how tiring it is to be around it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are a lot of tools out there.
Sometimes people just know where to look."
The workshop runs from noon to 1 p.m. at the Vancity Savings Credit Union at 71002850 Shaughnessy St. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP to 604-5523324.
Another event focused on raising awareness of Alzheimer's disease - the Investors Group Walk for Memories - is set for Sunday, Jan. 27 at Rocky Point Park in Port Moody.
The walk will be one of 23 throughout B.C. that day, and aims to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, as well as funds for people living with dementia.
For more information, or to register or donate, visit www. walkformemories.com or call Melodie Bell at 604-837-2820.
© Copyright 2013