Personal business cards help a family living with dementia make connections
When her father was diagnosed with dementia in 2001, Janet Arnold says it became increasingly difficult to manage his behaviour, especially in public. “He would get quite overwhelmed and shut down,” she recalls. “I could tell that people around us were concerned, but they didn’t understand and we didn’t want Dad to feel like he was being made fun of.”
So Arnold had an idea. She created small business cards that she and her sister would hand out in public places such as restaurants and on planes. The cards read, “Our father has dementia and sometimes he gets overwhelmed and may take some time to respond. We really appreciate your patience, thank you from the Arnold Family.” Similar cards form part of the Dementia Network Calgary’s online tool kit.
When Arnold’s mother was diagnosed with dementia in 2006, she created business cards again with a similar message. But unlike her father, Arnold’s mother would often become aggressive, yelling and screaming when she became upset. “People would look at my sister and me like we were doing something wrong, because Mom was so upset,” Arnold says.
“The judgment was quite hard for us, and Mom would pick up on emotion and see other people looking at us and get even more upset.” In the past, dementia was something that was rarely discussed, says Arnold, but the cards she created helped empower the sisters by letting the world know about the disease and also what they were experiencing.
Once, at a Calgary restaurant, the server asked to speak to Arnold privately, after being handed one of the cards. She told Arnold she appreciated the card and wanted to know how she could help support her mother. Eventually, the server engaged Arnold’s mother in conversation and even started joking around with her.
“Here is a young person, in her 20s, and she really wanted to know how could she support us,” Arnold says. While she admits it’s a difficult journey for anyone, Arnold says the card system helped her not worry so much about what others thought.
“It is a health issue and it isn’t something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. There are lots of ways that we as society members, as friends or family or observers of somebody with dementia, can provide support and compassion,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask.” [ ]
DID YOU KNOW? Dementia doesn’t only happen to the elderly. Out of the 564,000 Canadians living with dementia, 16,000 are under the age of 65. “While rare, dementia can affect people as young as 30,” says Alzheimer Society of Calgary’s Paul Bartel.