Posts tagged ‘health-care’

Our Momma has Dementia. But she’s still our Momma.

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“I don’t know that guy over there,” she says with a curious smile.

The tiny, seemingly good-natured Elder motions to another Elder seated at the end of the lunch table.

We remind her of who he is – as some family members shift in their chairs. My aunties, also seated around the table, politely do their best to keep the rest of the conversation going. They’ve all seen it before.

“That’s Larry, Mom. He’s your brother,” my sister Phyllis says. She offers a brief nod of acknowledgement. Less than a minute later, the scene repeats itself.

“I don’t know that guy over there,” she points even louder.

She’ll repeat herself nearly a dozen times that afternoon.


Some time later, our mom is visibly agitated as we take her back to her room. Fortunately, she was pleasant for much of the lunch organized by Phyllis. But clearly she’s tired and out of her comfort zone.

Her routine has been changed.

She’s quite abrupt to her daughter who she sees as a figure of authority. She murmurs abrupt commands along the way.

“Turn on my TV,” she says, slightly under her breath.

We take her to back to her room and comply. But TVO is only showing cartoons. Really, it doesn’t matter what’s on because she doesn’t watch television.  It’s all background noise for her comfort.

We tell her we have to go now, which seems to set her off even further.

“Where am I going to sit? Where are you taking me?”

As usual, she like to walk us out to the central hallway where she sits with her fellow residents at Cassellholme Home for the Aged.

We sit her down in an empty chair nearby her friends. She doesn’t know their names. But she doesn’t know our names, for that matter.

“Okay, Mom. We’ll see you again soon.”

“Turn on my TV, I said,” she says gruffly, no longer under her breath.

“We left your TV on, Mom. You’ll see when you go back to your room,” says Phyllis. She hugs Momma as we head for the elevator.

“TO HELL WITH YOU,” is her departing job.

We smile, reflective, that her sisters and her brother aren’t here to see this part of their brown-bag luncheon.


I’m not writing this to embarrass my family, or hurt my Momma’s dignity. I’m writing to open up a dialogue about the realities of dementia.

Dementia is a brain disorder that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.  Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia.

My mom, Dwyla, began experiencing symptoms of dementia about ten years ago while she was still living at home. It began with gradual, but noticeable memory loss. She adopted a number of complex rituals, involving the layering of tissue paper, organizing and obsessing with garbage and washing single items of laundry several times a day. She also got in touch with a dementia support service and began taking care of herself. Soon after, complicated further by several transient ischemic attacks (TIAs or “mini-stroke”), she was unable to care for herself including going to the toilet or taking a shower. She wasn’t able to make herself a ham sandwich or open a can of soup.

One terrifying incident involved her rituals around garbage. She got it in her head one day to take her bag of trash and throw it in the bush behind the house. She somehow made her way further and further back into the bush.  Yes, she’s an Anishinaabe woman. But she’s certainly not the trail-seeking, hunting, trapping and scouting type Indian. She wandered around for some time in the bush, alone and scared.  Luckily, she followed those voices out of the bush, only a few hundred feet down the Garden Village Road.

Most of her brothers and sisters and many of our cousins certainly were not aware that this was all going on. We kept it a private matter for so long, respecting her privacy and attempting to preserve her dignity. Many in our extended family probably wondered why she was in an old-age home. Some may have even second guessed our decision to place her there. After all, she was always the woman who took care of others. Why couldn’t we take care of her ourselves? My brother Dennis Jr., with the support of Phyllis and a host of personal care nurses did so for a few years. But the sad reality is that it was just not possible. Our Momma needed professional care.

I hope that this blog might raise some awareness about dementia and how it impacts our Elders, their families and Loved ones. Dementia not only inflicts Elders, but young Elders too. If you start to see these types of symptoms and behaviours, seek diagnosis, medical treatment and advice from health care professionals. And with the new medical software development it has made it so much easier taking her to her doctor appointments.

In our case, there was not much that doctors can do. Still, we are eternally grateful for the 24-hour care she gets at Cassellholme. We’re thankful to the many personal support workers, nurses and doctors who make life comfortable for Momma. They all call her by her name, offer her a smile, kindness and good care.

We’re also happy to see that Momma is quietly entertained by her many nameless friends who look out for her. She also genuinely enjoys her twice-a-week manicures.

Not everyday is filled with hostility or disruptive behaviours. She may not know our names, but she still lights-up when she sees us arrive for our regular visits.  Somehow she know who we are.  Those days are filled with her polite smile and genuine pride when she introduces us around the facility.

“This is my Boy,” Momma says to each and every staff member, resident and passer-byer.

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Diabetes trends not slowing

Diabetes kills.

It’s a disease that kills everyday and it’s been so apparent for so long.  It affects First Nations people far more than it affects non-native people. It affects far more First Nations women than any other demographic.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal illustrates the alarming numbers of First Nations people with diabetes. It examined 8275 aboriginal people in Saskatchewan between 1980 and 2005. It compared the trends with 82,306 non-native people over the same time period.

The study found that in 2005, 20 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men living in First Nations communities had Type-2 diabetes. That was an increase in 9.5 percent of women and 4.9 per cent in men. These trends are not about the slow down.

It also found that the root causes of diabetes among First Nations are not necessarily genetic or hereditary. It is environmental. It was about the food we eat and the lack of exercise and care we have for our bodies.

In my short lifetime, I’ve seen the disease ravage the bodies of many of my friends, family, Elders and even not-so-Elders. I’ve seen feet amputated, legs amputated and numerous people go blind. I’ve known many people forced to go on dialysis in order to live.

I’ve also seen them die.

I wrote recently about Helen Bobiwash. The certified management accountant from Sudbury took up the sport of triathlon to improve her own health with the hopes of staving off the onset of diabetes which runs in her family. Her mom Alice died of diabetes complications at the ripe age of 73. However, it was back in 2002, that Alice had to bury her son due to complications from diabetes. Rodney Bobiwash was only 42 when he passed on to the Spirit World.

I had only known him briefly and had the pleasure of hanging out with him on occasion when I lived and worked in Toronto back in the late 90s.

Rodney was a class-act. A vibrant young leader who garnered the respect of so many, both on the urban reserve and in the wider First Nation community. He was a tireless advocate of anti-racism and First Nations rights. He was vocal against hate speech. He stood up for human rights and was even an adjudicator for the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Most of all he was a teacher who taught me something new in every one of our few talks together. He was a teacher of so many people like me.

But I never knew the affliction that he endured. Apparently he put on a brave face. He faced incredible hardship, even pain as he took on the disease. He was taken from us far too early.

Today, I have diabetes. I’m approaching my 40s. Damn it… and I missed taking my pills again this morning. I’m not a very good diabetic at all. I’ve got to start looking after myself because, no matter how hard my Loved ones try, only I can do this for myself.

We all need to heed the message of good health, especially our Anishinaabe women. As Anishinaabe men, it’s our traditional role to protect our women and children. Given these latest facts, we all need to do more to prevent diabetes and promote better health in our families and in our communities.

Unlike Helen Bobiwash, I won’t be climbing in for a cold swim, followed by a bike ride and a 10 km run anytime soon. But I will strive to listen to the doctor, exercise and take my pills everyday – so help me God.

So help me, Rodney.