Early Alzheimer's Support in Nova Scotia: Shaping the Journey.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - 9:56am

Jack Hallisey is a disciplined man. Many people would tremble at the thought of some of the things he faced in his long career in the U.S military flying combat missions. When he began to struggle with memory and speech problems Jack was sure he could handle it. ”I realized I was having problems in what I was saying, and what I needed to say.”

Jack’s wife Anne Hallisey remembers how quickly his condition deteriorated. “Within the year he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.”

He soon accepted that he was now in a whole new kind of battle, one that he couldn’t face alone. Jack and Anne were beginning a long, tough fight.

Linda Bird, director of programs and services for the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia sees people like the Hallisey’s all too often. Until recently, she had to tell them there wasn’t much for them. “Four or five years ago we started doing something called an early stage forum for people with dementia. After that, the floodgates just opened and more and more people with dementia wanted access to more programming.”

“We have an aging population so we’re only going to have more people being diagnosed with dementia,” adds Kara Gouthro-Murgatroyd, the coordinator of education and support for the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia. She says there is a widening gap between their services and demand for them.

Dr. Veronica Hutchings, a psychologist with Capital Health in Halifax wanted to help. “There was really nothing for people until they had progressed to the moderate to late stages of dementia.” Hutchings knew something had to change. Nova Scotia needed more early stage Alzheimer’s programs.

She discovered a perfect fit with a successful program already being offered in British Columbia, and customized it for Nova Scotia. Beginning in May 2013, Capital Health and the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia teamed up to offer group programs for individuals with early stage dementia.

Hutchings says the programs are about much more than just giving people with Alzheimer’s and their care partners information and support. “They’re giving those individuals with dementia the chance to communicate. The chance to connect.” Jack Hallisey agrees. “Alzheimer’s isn’t something you can handle alone. You really need a group because they can offer so much and you can figure out that life is not going downhill as fast as you thought.”

Hutchings says the groups are a place where people with Alzheimer’s can express themselves in a way they often can’t anywhere else. “When somebody pauses, we don’t jump in, we don’t cut them off, because we know that they’re just taking the time to find the words.”

“When he comes home, I see a real change in him. He’s happy, he’s full of hope,” says Anne Hallisey . Jack agrees. “You come out of each of the sessions feeling like ‘hey man, this world is not so bad’. You know? Believe it or not I’m coping pretty darn good.”

Jack goes to two groups: Shaping the Journey and Coffee and Conversation. They’ve been so successful in Halifax that the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia is planning more partnerships with district health authorities across the province. “Working in partnership with Capital Health and with Veronica Hutchings enables us to do a lot more than we were ever able to do before.”

With the help of the groups, Jack says his quality of life after the Alzheimer’s diagnosis has far exceeded his expectations. “I feel the sense that ‘man, if we didn’t have this, what else would there have been that would have given us the same sense of achievement, ambition, and success?’ In fact, I often think sometimes I got more inspired when I got Alzheimer’s than I did when I was flying missions in combat if you want to know the honest truth."

Find out more:

Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia

or call toll free: 1-800-611-6345