Support for parents with dementia a struggle says Kamloops woman

It took a dramatic event before Tania McCartney’s father got the support he needed, now she hopes her mother can also get help.

It took a dramatic event before Tania McCartney’s father got the help he needed

Tania McCartney (right), and her parents Glen and Donna (left), both of whom have dementia. (Supplied/Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Glen McCartney was once both outspoken and well-spoken — until he started fumbling with his words at his daughter Tania's wedding in a way that was noticeable to his daughter. 

From then on his cognitive abilities continued to decline and after struggling to get him into the healthcare system, the work of caring for McCartney fell on Tania and her mother.

Ultimately, it was an unfortunate circumstance that got him the help he needed — Glen ended up assaulting Tania's mother, Donna.

The police were called to intervene, and the incident eventually led to him being put into a supported housing facility

"If you can look for the small blessing in the situation, he's finally getting the care that he needs," said Tania, who added that she hoped that the strain on her mother would lessen.

Instead, she found out that her mother was also suffering from dementia.

"I have parents still, but they are the shells of the people I knew, who I grew up with, who raised me," said Tania.

Likely as a result of her dementia, Tania's mother was hit by a car near her home in Abbotsford while crossing the street.

Demands on support services

Tania hopes that this recently accident will get the healthcare system to speed up the process of getting Donna into a supported facility.

Tara Hildebrand with the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. says because of Canada's aging population, it's a struggle to meet the demand for services. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Tara Hildebrand of the Alzheimer's Society of B.C., who has worked with Tania's family, said it is often a challenge to match people with the supports they need as Canada's senior population increases.

She said that wait lists are long — and often longer in communities that are smaller.

"Their access to supports and services is not what we have in larger centres, so there are all kinds of situations that come up," said Hildebrand, the provincial coordinator for support and education services at the organization.

"Some families access supports and services quicker than others and a lot of times that's based on geography. We do the best we can with what we are given."

'My parents are human beings'

For now, Tania and her siblings take turns caring for their mother.

Tania McCartney, her husband Greig Taylor, and their children Freja and Juno. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

That gives Tania's two daughters Juno and Freja the opportunity for them to get to know their grandmother.

"I can give my three-year-old more instructions than I can my mom," Tania said.

"I constantly forget and get frustrated, [but] my six-year-old is very, very sensitive. [During] one of her last visits … I was growing exasperated and probably starting to become harsh in my tone or maybe even raise my voice a little bit.

"And from colouring at the kitchen table she said, 'Grandma forgets things. Go easy on her.'

Even though Tania can get frustrated — she wishes she had the chance to learn more about her parents' earlier lives — she knows their time together is still precious.

"When you have interactions with someone with dementia, all they remember is the feeling they're left with. Treating them with love and respect and warmth is probably the kindest thing you could do for someone with dementia, and to listen and to hear and to see them, because not many people want to see them."

"My parents are human beings, and they're still capable of love."


  • An earlier version of this story stated Tania and her siblings take turns taking care of their mother in five-day stretches. This is not the case.
    Feb 15, 2016 2:55 PM PT

With files from Jenifer Norwell


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