Contributed photo White Rock’s Doug McMorland began showing signs of dementia in 2001.

Surrey resident to speak about erasing Alzheimer’s disease stigma

A goal of Dona McMorland is to erase stigma attached to the disease

North Surrey residents Dona and Doug McMorland have been living with Doug’s dementia diagnosis for 17 years, and the couple will share their story, and the importance of erasing stigma, at an event this Saturday.

Doug began noticing symptoms of dementia in 2001 when he was 60 years old.

“He was working as an electrician at the Surrey (Memorial) Hospital,” Dona told Peace Arch News Sunday. “He was having troubles remembering what he was supposed to be doing. His boss signed him off on short-term disability which turned into long-term disability.”

Now aged 77, Doug lives in a residential care facility, but that’s because of his physical needs, Dona said.

“Not his mental state. I would still have him at home if he didn’t have the physical issues.”

Dona will give a presentation at the Alzheimer Society of BC’s resource centre (201 – 15127 100 Ave.) from 3-5 p.m. Jan. 26.

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Above all else, Dona said, there’s one important message she would like to share with those who attend.

“They are still the same person you knew before the diagnosis, and not to treat them differently. They’re still people. Don’t talk down to them, don’t pretend they’re not there.

“A lot of them are diagnosed early enough that they can manage quite nicely. My husband was quite very slowly progressing and he carried on without people knowing until he told them,” Dona said.

January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and the goal of this year’s campaign, according to the society, is to change attitudes towards the disease and erase stigma.

Dona said she noticed that some people treated her husband differently after they learned of his diagnosis.

“Some, not many,” she said. “We were very open from the very first moment. We told all of our friends, and all of our family that this is what we’re dealing with and got it out there. People just accepted it and carried on.”

Dona said she recommends that everyone who’s dealing with dementia be transparent about their diagnosis.

“Definitely. It’s not a dirty little secret. It’s a disease that we’re trying our best to deal with.”

Doug and Dona got involved with the Alzheimer’s Society of BC shortly after Doug’s diagnosis.

“We went from getting a lot of help from them, to helping people through workshops and presentations… He was very good at speaking, every once and a while I would step in and help him out a bit,” Dona said.

“He gets quite off track sometimes, but that’s OK. It’s just something that you learn to deal with.”

Dona said that both she and her husband are tackling the disease together.

“We are, right from the beginning. We’re very lucky we have very supportive kids. They help our tremendously.”

Dona said she’s grateful for the media coverage and open discussion that’s occurred as a result of January being named Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

Dona said her husband “loves talking” and “he’s really looking forward” to the event.

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