Donna McMorland describes her husband as abnormally wonderful.
Indeed, Doug McMorland is kind of a lucky man.
He reads the sports and business sections daily, he shops alone and even drives – though with Donna at his side, watching him “like a hawk.”
What may have kept him high-functioning and self-aware for a full decade after an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis was a proactive response when things began to go wrong.
In 2001, at age 60, Doug began to forget things at his job as an electrician at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
His boss soon got angry as wiring projects were abandoned or forgotten.
“It got to the point that they were following me,” he admits. “It got very uncomfortable.”
His weakening short-term memory also made it hard to remember the names of people he’d been having coffee with for years.
One strategy he used was to simply greet them, but never mention names.
“Sometimes, it’s easy to get away with it. Sometimes, you get caught.”
The family doctor referred Doug to a neuropsychologist who suggested a series of intensive tests at UBC and then VGH to determine what was going on.
Doug underwent CT scans and was peppered with questions and instructions: Repeat these colours, multiply these numbers in your head, recall these drawings, retell the story you just heard.
The conclusion was grim: The onset of Alzheimer’s disease, a progressively worsening condition.
Once the shock of the diagnosis had passed, Doug and Donna – his wife was now his primary caregiver – would learn about the ways to slow down the advancement of the disease.
The early diagnosis, along with a combination of medications (including cholinesterase inhibitors), exercise and social support from his wife, friends, three adult children and the Alzheimer Society of B.C. (ASBC), have allowed Doug to enjoy a normal retirement.
He maintains an active social life and works out on the treadmill at the YMCA three times a week.
To stay focused, he keeps a coil notebook with a daily agenda.
Admittedly, Alzheimer’s has tested the patience of his wife.
Multi-tasking, for instance, is out of the question – Donna knows she can’t tell him to go to the bedroom, brush his teeth and pick up the mess in the living room. One thing must be done at a time.
One Easter, he came back from the grocery store with everything but the ham.
He’s also slowed right down.
“You’re like molasses,” his wife tells him. “It takes you a long time to do anything.”
Their good humour has helped over the years.
“You’re the ones with the problem, not me,” Doug joked with his family just after diagnosis. “I’m fine.”
“We’re very fortunate that he’s been very slow in progressing,” says Donna, who adds that people are often surprised to learn he has Alzheimer’s.
“He is really higher-functioning than other people who were diagnosed 10 years ago,” says Avalon Tournier, a support and education coordinator with the ASBC. “It think part of it has to do with a positive attitude, exercising and eating correctly.
“But the other thing is I think he was self-aware and diagnosed quite early. Some people wait three or four years and say to themselves ‘I don’t think there’s anything wrong’ and deny it, so by the time they’re diagnosed, the medications don’t work as effectively.”
Tournier speculates that the cholesterol-lowering statin drugs Doug took before diagnosis helped to curb the disease.
“When he was first diagnosed, we decided that we weren’t hiding this from anybody,” says Donna. “This was not our dirty little secret.
“And we tease him unmercifully,” she adds with a laugh.
Doug and Donna have also learned coping and stress management skills by participating in ASBC support groups, which focus on helping often-stressed caregivers as well as patients.
On Jan. 30, Doug will speak as an honouree at the Walk for Memories, an annual Alzheimer Society fundraiser.
The Investors Group Walk for Memories serving White Rock, Langley, Surrey and Delta will take place Sunday, Jan. 30 from 1-2 p.m. at Eaglequest Golf Club at Coyote Creek, 7778 152 St. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. For more information or for pledge forms, visit www.walkformemories.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-667-3742, 604-541-0606 or 604-533-5277.