Tips on living well through the lens of Mike Morissette, a man living with vascular dementia.
Mike Morissette and his wife, Carol, have lived in Orleans, a suburb just outside Ottawa, since 1975. The two have been married for 48 years, raised three kids and are now experiencing the joys of seven grandchildren.
In 2008, during a road trip with his wife, Mike suffered a severe stroke caused by a large infarct on the back of his cerebellum. After spending three days in an emergency room, Mike was misdiagnosed with vertigo, a sensation that the environment around you is moving or spinning.
[left] Mike and Carol Morissette [right]
Since Mike wasn't treated for the stroke in the first 24 hours, he experienced damage to other parts of the brain, affecting his memory and decision-making.
After noticing slight changes in her husband's memory and processing, Carol notified their family doctor. Immediately, Mike was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. However, three years later, in 2014, the diagnosis was changed to mixed dementia and, in 2019, to vascular dementia.
Unfortunately, two months after experiencing the stroke, Mike was also diagnosed with prostate cancer. Due to his recent stroke, he was unable to get surgery. He underwent 37 radiation treatments.
"Keep a routine, eat well, exercise, get rest and gather with others."
– Mike Morissette
Undeniably, resilience and strength rest at the core of the Morissette family. Here, in his own words, Mike offers advice on how to live well with dementia:
Keep a positive attitude
I mean, the thing is that I could go on about the negative … and I can say, oh my gosh, I've got dementia. But [then I] think of the rest of the world and all of the different, not so good things with other people around the world, and I say to myself, ‘Mike, take it easy. You're going to be fine. It's going to be okay... stay on the positive.' So that’s what I've always thought of first and foremost and as a result I get through this and I'm still getting through it.
Spend time with family and friends
I'm very blessed with my family, my wife, daughter, son, and their spouses and my seven grandchildren. Not now during the pandemic, but when it was safe, [I loved] watching and participating in their activities — hockey, soccer, baseball, swimming and dancing. My wife's aunt and uncle and many friends keep in touch with me. Also, the many special people that I have met through my day programs and support groups. My volunteering and my interest in sports, basketball, baseball, hockey and football. I like to do word search and watch my favourite TV programs, and I enjoy going to our cottage and being in nature. I like travelling. Two years ago we had two cruises, one to the Caribbean and the second to Alaska.
Follow a daily routine
During the day I get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, read the paper, do word search, maybe go for a walk for some type of movement. We have lunch, go on a Zoom call with my day program, watch my game show at four o'clock, have supper and help with the dishes and relax for the evening … then all over again. I might help with the yard work in the summer and snow in the winter. I like nature walks. I have a detailed calendar that I rely on and I have many notes that I keep.
For those newly diagnosed
Get educated, learn as much about dementia and your diagnosis as you possibly can. Prepare your will and powers of attorney. Don't be afraid to let others know of your condition. Family, friends, neighbours, banks and pharmacies. Join support groups and day programs. Keep a routine, eat well, exercise, get rest and gather with others. Be social, allow others to assist you, pray and keep all sense of humor.
Dementia is not contagious. Don't be afraid to be with me. I might need more time to process what you are telling me and I may need things to be repeated or explained again. I might not get it, but be patient with me because I still have feelings and emotions. I need to be treated with respect and dignity ... I can be impulsive and use poor judgment. My moods can change on a dime. I can be argumentative and uncooperative, but give me five minutes and I can forget the situation like it never happened. Please be patient when I tell the same story over and over and over again — I think it’s a way to preserve my memory.