Human Library project enables Winnipeg woman talk of father's dementia
Rachel Smith became a caregiver to her father after the diagnosis
Rachel Smith has a story to tell.
The 26-year-old's life has completely changed over the past year after her father was diagnosed with dementia and she moved back home to help her parents deal with her family's new reality.
It's a story Smith will tell to strangers Saturday as a volunteer with the Human Library project.
Telling her story and talking to others has helped her to deal with the sudden changes she's encountered, Smith said. "There's a lot of people going through similar things.
"Whether it's Alzheimer's or something else, when you're faced with these kind of situations, it can be very helpful to talk to other people or to share with others how you've managed to cope."
The Human Library is an idea that sees people act like books. Smith can be "borrowed" for a half-hour of conversation from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Millennium Library.
Smith told CBC News she wasn't exactly surprised with her dad's diagnosis—which came just days after her 26th birthday—because she'd noticed him changing over time.
But that didn't make it any less painful.
"I think the most difficult thing is to see my dad go through that and to find a way to not be depressed and sad all the time, because it is such a hard thing to see," she said. "The type of dementia he has, Lewy Body Dementia, affects the part of the brain where he has symptoms of both Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease and it's a very fast-progressing disease.
"He was always such a strong person... he was always telling jokes and now he can barely speak."
Smith's dad can't be left alone, so she and her mom worked closely to make sure he was safe and taken care of at home until he moved into a personal care home earlier this year.
While it's been difficult, Smith says one of the ways she's been able to cope has been to look for and appreciate anything positive that has come out of the experience.
That's something she wants to share with others Saturday.
"Because it has been such a challenge, I feel like I can face anything," she said. "It's like I don't know how much worse something can get, so I can deal with it—I've done this—I can do anything."
It's also taught her patience and compassion, she says, and strengthened her relationship with both of her parents.
"My mom and I have become very close, because it's been such a challenging experience for both of us," she said. "I've been able to build a stronger relationship with my dad even though he has been going through such a difficult time.
"I find that it's very unique to be able to know that any day could be the last and to be able to tell him how much I love him...I feel there's been a closeness with him that I don't know if I would have ever been able to have otherwise."