My life with Alzheimer's disease by Gary Quinton

In Nov 2012 I had the privilege of speaking at the Manitoba Alzheimer’s Conference.  I spoke in a large gym.  Tables and chairs were set up throughout the entire space. I was nervous. The conference participants were people with Alzheimers and family caregivers.  I was going to talk about Alzheimer’s Disease as a terminal illness.  How was I going to do this without being offensive… How were the people going to receive this information?

As I spoke someone caught my eye in the left hand, front, corner of the room.  A nice looking man.  He smiled, nodded, smiled and nodded.  I thought, “this man knows what I am talking about… he must be a family caregiver or a nurse or doctor”.

When the session was over a few people gathered to speak with me. After a bit  I turned around and there was the man with the smile.  “Who are you?” I asked.  And he told me his name, “Gary Quinton”.

“But WHO are you?” I asked again, trying to find out “Why do you know this information? Why did it resonate with you?”

Gary then proceeded to tell me his story.

I am honoured a year later to receive his story via email.  He is happy for me to share his story with you. I am grateful that he has also shared his story on video with one of my favorite resources… it should be available in the coming months…. stay tuned!

Thanks to Gary – the man with the smile, an incredible attitude and a wonderful wife!

My story

By David Gary Quinton

I will start with giving you my age. I am 71 as of last Dec.

My wife Judy realized something was wrong long before I did. For me, the first real indicator happened while I was teaching a tai chi class. I was giving an example and saw my students look at each other a little quizzically. I asked them if I had been repeating myself and they said yes. I realized that this had been happening a few times already.

The diagnosis was not a shock but it was definitely a blow for us. I knew immediately that I had a choice to make. I could go downhill and get depressed or I could make the best of the hand I had just been dealt. Not even a minute went by before I decided to face this thing head on. I have not wasted time regretting that impulse but it does create some questions for others.

I want to maximize my time and do what I can, when I can, for as long as I am able.

Being honest and straightforward from the start has allowed our family and friends to be open with us. A classic example of the support I receive is the two friends I meet with every Wednesday afternoon to go walking, skiing, or cycling. This helps me to connect with friends and allows Judy some time for herself.  What a wonderful gift they are giving us.

The decision to tell people that I have Alzheimer’s has never caused me regret.

It is part of me, my circumstance. I operate on the basis that I will have lapses.  I will forget names, and other things. I don’t mind being reminded of details.

I am comfortable with explaining my situation to anyone who wants to know, or who has dealings with me.

A change was to surrender my driver’s licence. I took a breath and did it. As a result I have discovered two things: one, I still love riding a bicycle, and two, bus drivers, and bus rides, are wonderful. When I am unsure of my situation, I tell the bus driver I have Alzheimer’s and get confused sometimes.   Unfailingly, he or she is most helpful and clear. When I travel around Winnipeg I can rubber-neck and enjoy the scenery and incredibly varied architecture we have in our city. A further bonus, I am in great shape now and have ridden through the winter and into this summer.

*When I meet people, I tell them my name and that I have Alzheimer’s disease and apologize for likely needing to ask their names again and again. I have yet to see anyone act as if offended. (this is really liberating for me — I was always poor at recalling names)

The clients and people who volunteer and work at the Alzheimer’s Society are helpful and wonderful.  It is like going to a new school and meeting class-mates who are newcomers too. We bond pretty quickly.

The society provides material and programs that are informative and reassuring and, best of all, practical. We all get a chance to share — and I am learning to listen a bit better too.

About me, I am a father of two daughters and a grandfather of three grandsons — what gifts I have been given.

For my working years, I taught junior and senior high school English for thirty years — loved them all. Who but a fortunate person could be exposed to so many wonderful people and experiences as I was there?

I am retired now, that is like a long holiday — with house and ground – keeping privileges.

Last, but so easily first, my partner, Judy, has been a wonderful support, very active, patient,  adaptive and energetic — so I never could get in a funk if I so wanted.

Judy and Gary Quinton, Kath Murray, MB Alzheimer's Conference 201