A journey of Alzheimer’s

A journey of Alzheimer’s

White Rock resident recounts journey from daughter, to caregiver

The reversal of roles was one of the most difficult challenges that White Rock’s Gina McCulloch has had to come to grips with.

McCulloch’s mother Anna Baldwin and father Ron brought their family to Canada in 1957. When McCulloch was teased in the classroom for her English accent, her mother was there as a source of comfort.

Now, McCulloch – the honouree of this year’s Walk for Alzheimer’s to be held next month in Surrey – travels to Delta View residential care home on a daily basis to comfort her 97-year-old mother.

McCulloch, 70, noted her mother’s psychological capacity has been on a steady decline since her journey with Alzheimer’s disease started more than 15 years ago. She said she began to notice that her mother wasn’t as sharp as she used to be, but her condition drastically worsened when Ron passed away in 2004.

There was the beginning of irrational decisions and accusations that people were stealing from her, and she began hiding money.

The family initially thought the contrast was a result of going through the grieving process, but they say Baldwin never returned to her old self.

Once, a solicitor came to the door and sought payment to prune a holly bush in front of the house. He requested $1,000 for the work, and she paid in cash.

“That’s just one. I think they must have given out her phone number and passed it on, because then people started to come for various things. Vacuum cleaners, someone changed the filter on the furnace – that was $1,000,” McCulloch told Peace Arch News at her home last week, the same home where her mother used to live.

Not only had people started to take advantage, but McCulloch noticed her mother starting to make mistakes that put herself in danger.

“After about five years, she couldn’t manage on her own. She was having kitchen fires, the cupboards were on fire because she would put things on the stove and walk away,” McCulloch explained.

She said her mother was in denial that she had dementia, even after being diagnosed in 2007. Baldwin developed strategies to hide the memory loss that’s associated with the disease. She knew – for example – that her daughter would call her every evening and ask her what she had for dinner.

“She would have sticky notes by the phone. It would say ‘tell Gina I had shepherds’ pie for dinner.’

“She had sticky notes everywhere, as a means of covering up.”

McCulloch said the family took her mother’s licence away and unplugged the stove. But by 2010, they realized she couldn’t live alone.

McCulloch and her husband, both retired, created a basement suite in Baldwin’s house in White Rock, and from that point forward, became her 24/7 caregivers.

Although exhausted both physically and mentally, McCulloch was “determined” to keep her mother at home.

“And then she had congestive heart failure,” McCulloch said, adding that her mother’s Alzheimer’s symptoms took a turn for the worse after the 2015 incident.

A social worker at the hospital told McCulloch that she could not take her mother home and, if she did, McCulloch could be liable if her mother fell or injured herself.

McCulloch said that – at the time – she was angry with the social worker’s directive, but today she has a different opinion on the decision.

“It would have been so difficult for me to make that decision. Would I have ever done it? I probably would have waited too long. They made it for me, it was taken out of my hands and probably for the best,” she said.

McCulloch said her mother is approaching the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, and one of the ways she can measure the disease’s progression is through the activities she does with her mother.

For all her life, Baldwin has been an avid reader. One time, before moving into residential care, Baldwin was so caught up in reading a novel that she didn’t realize the house was starting to billow with smoke. Luckily, McCulloch said, a neighbour noticed and came to help.

When Baldwin moved into residential care, her passion for reading books began to fade.

McCulloch started to bring over children’s games and other tools to keep Baldwin occupied on daily visits. McCulloch said she started with toys that were for children under the age of 10, and now brings toys that are for children ages two to four.

“That role reversal is very difficult for many people,” McCulloch said. “For me, my mother is the child and I’m the parent. I see her there and to me she’s still my mother… that’s the shell. Who she is, is really, like a child. It’s difficult to ever really accept that – but you do.”

McCulloch, who has been attending a White Rock Alzheimer’s support program since 2015, said one of her mistakes was not getting involved with the program sooner.

“I started going and I should have been going before,” she said.

McCulloch said she didn’t initially go to the working groups because she felt as if she didn’t have enough time, “but if I had gone, I would have been better able to care for my mom.”

McCulloch said the Alzheimer’s Society of BC helped her navigate through the health system, and were available to meet on a one-on-one basis.

She says the stress that she has to go through pales in comparison to what her mother deals with. It’s difficult, McCulloch said, to watch her mother dart her eyes back-and-forth, as she attempts to make sense of a seemingly straightforward situation.

“No matter how hard it is for the caregiver, it’s harder for them,” McCulloch said.

Each year, the White Rock, Surrey and North Delta 2018 Investors Group Walk for Alzheimer’s selects a resident as an honouree.

Money collected through the May 6 event, at Eaglequest Golf Course, is to go toward Alzheimer’s support programs, education and services.

The Alzheimer’s Walk is held in more than 20 communities throughout the province. To donate, start a team, sponsor or join the walk, visit walkforalzheimers.ca. More than 70,000 are affected by dementia in the province.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil Friday evening (May 7) to remember 29-year-old corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, who was killed in last weekend’s brazen daylight shooting outside North Delta’s Scottsdale Centre mall. (James Smith photo)
Hundreds gather to remember victim of North Delta shooting

Corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, 29, was killed in what police say was a targeted incident

Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford and Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux. (Contributed photos)
BC NDP ‘chose to create a system of chaos’ by holding back COVID-19 data: Cadieux

South Surrey MLAs criticize provincial government after BCCDC documents leak

Flags flown at half mast out front of Fraser Regional Correctional Centre for slain corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa. (Neil Corbett/ The News)
Public vigil and flying flags at half mast done to honour slain prison guard

Maple Ridge corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, 29, is being remembered in a number of ways

TEASER PHOTO ONLY
Surrey woman a face of World Ovarian Cancer Day campaign in London, New York

‘It’s so important we find better treatments,’ Catherine Eiswerth says

The map shows the number of COVID-19 cases for the week of April 25 to May 1. The darkest areas indicate communities with a daily average of more than 20 cases per 100,000 population. (BC Centre of Disease Control)
Surrey and Abbotsford battle for top COVID hotspot in Fraser Health

Two communities are among areas across province showing highest transmission

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Mandeep Grewal was gunned down outside an Abbotsford bank in October 2018. Police said a violent gang war to control drug-line territory was going on at that time. Drug charges have now been announced against seven people. (FILE PHOTO: John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
7 people face 38 charges related to gang drug activity in Abbotsford and Mission

Police say investigation began in 2018 into expansion of Brothers Keepers’ drug line

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

Most Read