Speaking Out to Help Raise Awareness
It started with mood swings. Joe Hutter didn’t notice them much, but his wife, Sylvia, did. Their children started to notice, too.
They later learned this was a sign of early onset dementia.
While this was shocking news to receive, Joe and Sylvia have taken it in stride.
The husband-and-wife pair are outspoken advocates for the Alzheimer Society and speak freely about Joe’s illness. It makes them an excellent fit for their new roles as the first-ever spokespeople for the Walk for Alzheimer’s.
Joe and Sylvia have been taking part in the Walk since the ‘90s, when Sylvia’s dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They’re part of a large group that collects about $2500 each year. They feel good knowing that the money all goes toward helping families in Oxford County.
“We’re hoping we can raise more,” Sylvia says. “The services here will benefit Joe and myself.”
Joe and Sylvia have been attending Alzheimer Society support groups since Joe’s diagnosis three years ago. Their initial apprehensions about reaching out quickly dissipated after they met with Family Support Workers at the Alzheimer Society.
“After we got there, they made you feel so comfortable. There’s just a way about them that makes you feel strong,” Sylvia says.
The Family Support Workers have been there every step of the way, answering questions and making them feel welcomed at the Alzheimer Society office.
Attending the support groups helped Joe and Sylvia be open about the diagnosis with their family and friends. Listening to others share their experiences with dementia, Joe could see that what he was going through could happen to anyone.
“It was nice to meet different people that have the same problem,” he says. It helped Joe develop the confidence to share his diagnosis with his friends at church, which was a big step for him. Now, he says he’s not scared to tell anyone.
The Alzheimer Society’s support groups for clients and caregivers have also helped Joe and Sylvia learn better strategies for living with the disease. For instance, Sylvia has learned to be more patient when Joe has mood swings and to be less particular about how things are done at home.
Crucially, they’ve also realized that they can go on living normal lives. Sylvia helped care for her father and her uncle when they had Alzheimer’s and knows how hard it can be in the later stages. But there’s no reason why they can’t live an active life right now.
“When your spouse is diagnosed with dementia, it’s a shock. But then you get over it, you get help, you let other people know and then you get lots of support,” Sylvia says.
Helping people understand that life goes on after a diagnosis is a message they want to share as Walk for Alzheimer’s spokespeople, a role they say they’re “honoured” to take on.