Out in the Open

My mother's early-onset dementia diagnosis sidetracked both our lives

Naomi Mison’s mother was diagnosed with dementia in her mid 50s, forcing Naomi into a caregiver role fresh out of university.
Naomi Mison and her mom at South Terrace Continuing Care Centre in Edmonton. (Provided by Naomi Mison)

Naomi Mison remembers her mom as being loving and supportive ‒ willing to talk about anything going on in Naomi's life.

"It was like having a best friend, but it's your mom," she says.

While Naomi was in university, her mom was living back in England, where she was from. It was not long after Naomi's graduation that her relationship with her mother changed. 

"I received a call from an institution in England stating that my mom had been found wandering the train station in her nightgown," Naomi says. They told Naomi she needed to come there and pick her up.

Naomi arrived to find her mother distraught and delusional. She brought her back to Canada, where a doctor gave his diagnosis: frontotemporal dementia. 

Naomi was in her early 20s, and her mom only in her mid 50s. 

"It was one thing to be treating mental illness ‒ I felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel," Naomi says. "But as soon as he expressed a dementia diagnosis, it was sort of like the air went out of the balloon. … I knew that my mom was never going to be the same again, and I knew that I was never going to be the same again."

Over the past 10 years, her mother's health has improved and backslid. But she never became the mother Naomi remembered. She now lives in a long-term care facility in Edmonton. 

"I can't really go to a support group because no one is in their 20s and 30s, barely trying to get their life together," Naomi says. "They're in their 50s, 60s, dealing with their ageing parent."

Naomi wishes her mother was there to care for her through her 20s. Instead, she's become her mother's caregiver, which sidetracked her own personal and professional goals in life. 

In a recent moment of lucidity, Naomi's mother apologized for what she's put her daughter through. But Naomi knew, of course, that it wasn't her mother's fault. 

"I just put it to her like this: 'Would you do it for me?' And she said, 'Of course.' And I said, 'Well there you go. There's your answer.'"