'A great life after diagnosis': Retired CBC journalist discusses life with Alzheimer's
Darce Fardy and his wife, Dorothea, share their story to help others with the disease
Longtime CBC journalist Darce Fardy, now 84, was at the St. John's airport about five years ago when a man plunked down next to him and struck up a conversation.
When their chat was over, Fardy turned to his wife and asked, "Who was that?" It was Hockey Night in Canada announcer Bob Cole, a man Fardy knew from working together at CBC St. John's.
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"I knew him well," Fardy told Radio-Canada this week. "I don't know if I even remembered his face."
Concerned about the odd experience, Fardy and his wife Dorothea went to his family doctor and discovered the truth: Darce Fardy has Alzheimer's. Fardy said there was no despair that day. Instead, he had an apt reaction for a person who spent his life as a storyteller in four provinces, including Nova Scotia.
"This is a great story," he remembers telling his family. "Would you mind if I write about it?"
'Too many people are embarrassed'
Fardy contacted the Chronicle Herald and since then has written about two dozen columns for the newspaper about his dementia. And now, during Alzheimer Awareness Month, he and his wife are sharing their story again so that the approximately 17,000 Nova Scotian families facing the disease and other dementias can learn that they are neither alone nor doomed to a terrible life.
"Too many people are embarrassed by it and it's a pity, you know, because there's a great life after diagnosis that you can take advantage [of]," he said. "I go to the gym regularly, we socialize a lot, we had 26 people here the other [day], more, for a Christmas party, and they all know I have it, but nobody's reacting or overreacting to that."
Fardy does not fit the stereotype of a person struggling with dementia. To combat the disease he takes "a mess of pills," exercises regularly and reads. His vocabulary is large and he uses it. His memory seemed sound during a 20-minute interview with Radio-Canada, though he says it's gotten much worse since the diagnosis.
And there are other struggles.
Fardy said he hasn't driven since the day he went to the doctor's office, and he dearly misses neighbourhood walks. He's not supposed to drink anymore (though his daughter slipped him a couple over the holidays), and he has "crazy" dreams. He's fallen twice, a problem he blames on the dementia rather than any physical ailment.
'She's the ideal kind of person'
Fardy greets questions about his resilience with a shrug, grateful for the support from people including his wife, whom he first met when she was 17.
"She's the ideal kind of person. She can handle things. She's not looking at me saying, 'Oh, you poor bastard' or anything like that," he said. "She's just getting on with it."
Dorothea said, "At the very beginning I told Darce, 'You're not ashamed you have arthritis. Why would you be ashamed you have Alzheimer's?' And that's the truth of it."
Still, she said she wouldn't have been as public with the diagnosis as Darce has been. That is, until she saw the way people reacted to it. Then she was all in.
"People will come up to him on the street and say my aunt had it, my uncle had it, my sister has it," she said. "You felt as if someone had taken their finger out of a dam. Suddenly everything about their whole family came out. Everyone we've talked to, you can see the relief that they can talk about it. And I think that's a big help. I think if you can talk about it, you can accept it."
Both Fardys laugh and smile about their life together.
"I'm as tough as old boots, that's what I am," Dorothea said. "When you can't change it, you don't really have much choice. You just get up, put one foot in front of the other, and find things to laugh about, things to fight about sometimes."
Linda Bird, director of programs and services for the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia, said the reality is that many people with Alzheimer's live well, but too often the stigma attached to the illness reduces people's quality of life and isolates them further.
"They might not be talking to other people who have the disease, they might not be planning for the future, they might not be going to their doctor to get a diagnosis, and having the best quality of life that they can have," she said.
The society is using the hashtag #iNoticedWhen online to highlight that dementia is more than just memory loss, but can also show itself in changes in personality or initiative.
"When they start having trouble, then it's time to go to the doctor and check it out and explore whether it's dementia or something else," she said.
With files from Radio-Canada's Stéphanie Blanchet