January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: a Personal story

Randy Cliff, a 65 year-old husband, father, grandfather and proud Stouffville resident has a smile that lights up the room.

“My dad was the life of the party…forget the party, he brought life to every event, gathering and even just an ordinary day. To anyone lucky enough to know him, there was no denying his infectious happiness and optimism, no matter what he was doing. He loves people and people love him. He always enjoyed making everyone laugh and he knew just how to do it,” says Randy’s daughter Theresa.

After a 35 year career at Bell Canada, Randy had big plans for his retirement; travelling Canada and spending time with his grandchildren. He was an avid photographer with a studio and dark room in his basement. He played hockey, baseball, golf and loved anything that involved being active and outdoors.

                 Randy Cliff (C), daughter Theresa (Laird) and son Steven Cliff

Those plans changed when shortly after his 60th birthday, Randy was diagnosed with Frontotemporal dementia (FTD). This disorder occurs when nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain are lost. FTD can affect behaviour, personality, language, and movement.

Randy’s dementia journey has been on a steady decline for almost 5 years now. At 65 years old, he no longer speaks and lately his mobility has significantly deteriorated.

This is the reality for many of families, friends and neighbours living with dementia.

Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of disorders that affect the brain. Alzheimer’s disease and FTD are just two types of dementia. All types of dementia are fatal and currently there is no cure … But there is hope. Those living with dementia can still live well as long as they, and the people who care for them, are supported.

The Alzheimer Society chapters (York Region [AS York]) provide this critical support. Staff offer valuable information, programs and services, referrals to outside services and support; healthcare navigation; education; counselling; support groups; and D.A.Y. programs.

Caregivers for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias spend 70 percent more care hours looking after someone with dementia than any other chronic disease, and even more so as the disease progresses. Dementia can be a lonely journey and caregivers often say that family and friends slowly disappear after a diagnosis, leaving them alone when they need support the most.

“I never imagined being a caregiver. I pictured Randy and I enjoying retirement together. Life can certainly be unpredictable but with dementia, you put your entire life on hold,” says Randy’s wife Lori.

By giving today, you are letting caregivers know you understand; that they have your support. Continuing your connection with AS York will ensure that caregivers and those living with dementia know they are never alone.

The staff at AS York are helping Randy and thousands of others just like him throughout their dementia journeys.

Early on Randy’s dementia journey, his wife Lori found the Alzheimer Society of York Region.

Lori was introduced to one of AS York’s social workers, Rebecca, and the family’s relationship with AS York began.

Randy attended the AS York D.A.Y. Program in both Aurora and Stouffville. Once again his infectious smile won hearts among the program staff.

Recently, Randy’s mobility has suffered and he is no longer walking or standing on his own. This means that even as the in-person D.A.Y. programs re-opened, he was unable to attend. He is house bound.

That’s when the AS York team knew they had to do something. When Randy and many others were unable to come to the D.A.Y. program, AS York worked to bring the adult day program to them.

“Once a week, Kristal comes to the house and brings a box of goodies; toys, games, puzzles etc. and sits with Randy for a whole hour. I can’t tell you how good it is to hear her laughter and sounds of excitement in the house when he is succeeding or participating in something,” Lori says.

The pandemic and COVID-19 have had a major impact on communities but, for those living with dementia and their caregivers, the repercussions have been devastating. Loneliness and isolation, unfortunately, go hand in hand with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and the pandemic has only amplified it.

“The D.A.Y. program was my first introduction to support provided by AS York after my husband’s diagnosis. The staff at the Stouffville location showed smiles and said the words you want to hear when leaving your loved one in their hands. They were his first smile of the day. I am so glad Randy got to spend the time he did at this great program,” says Lori.

Lori has attended workshops and is a part of a few different support groups. Randy’s whole family has been a part of the IG Wealth Management Walk for Alzheimer’s for three years running. Randy attended D.A.Y. programs in-person and now benefits from the adult day program at home

“I don’t know what my family would do without the support we have received from AS York, they have been a lifeline for us when we all felt a little hopeless. I have learned so much about the disease and am better prepared to face the challenges ahead. I encourage anyone with questions to reach out. The team at AS York are incredibly knowledgeable and will go above and beyond to get you the help you need,” says Randy’s son Steven.
Editor’s Note:  Randy Cliff is my Cousin … Sandy Lindsay (Editor)
Support the Alzheimer’s Society chapter of your choice.