Men in the Kitchen give a boost to caregivers

Discovering international cuisines is just one of the activities Jack Schiess enjoys at his cooking class. “What I especially like is different ways of cooking vegetables, not overdoing it,” says the enthusiastic member of Men in the Kitchen, an eight-week program cooked up by Alzheimer Groupe Inc. (AGI) with a little help from Provigo’s President’s Choice Cooking School.

The class injects a bit of fun and camaraderie in the life of the gourmet-chef-in-training who, when not mastering exotic recipes, spends most of his time at a care facility with his wife Marjorie, who is battling the later stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Since she has developed difficulties eating, he is at her side 10 to 12 hours a day.

“We’ve been together 51 years,” he says. “We had a happy marriage, not many arguments, we tried to cooperate as best as we could.”

Alzheimer Groupe has been there for the couple since Marjorie’s diagnosis, Schiess said. “Initially I’ve taken programs they give caregivers, which is actually to introduce you to the disease and give you pointers on how to handle yourself, tips on physical support, how to properly manage the handicaps. They give you the mental preparation regarding what to expect of the disease and how to survive it.”

After her diagnosis, Marjorie began to attend the Activity Centre and looked forward to it each time, Schiess recalled. “It freed me up to do housework and business. As her condition worsened AGI was instrumental in getting in-home visits. Later they instituted respite care. It’s incredible what AGI does, they have feelers out for accessible resources.”

AGI provides training, educational conferences and lectures, going into residences and care facilities to offer staff further training to deal with dementia. They run inter-generational programs for elementary and high school students.

“There are wonderful organizations that do research, but our sole focus is support,” says executive director Linda Israel, explaining that AGI was founded 30 years ago by people whose parents had the illness and couldn’t find community support. Besides the Men in the Kitchen cooking class, two new programs are starting this fall. “These programs don’t exist anywhere in Quebec,” Israel said. The Safety Net Mentorship Program matches the family caregiver of a loved one who has Alzheimer’s with a trained volunteer mentor who has experience as a dementia caregiver. They offer guidance, connection, and support on a regular basis.

“When you get a diagnosis, you don’t know where to turn,” Israel said. “The doctor wants to see you six months later but when you leave the office you are full of questions. A trained mentor can show a caregiver how to navigate the system, and they can talk regularly.” AGI now has 16 pairs of mentors and caregivers, Israel said.

Another new program is the Young Onset Social Group for those diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia, that appears before 65. “There are people in their 40s, some who have children at home. We rent a space at a community centre and participants socialize, there is access to the gym, they go bowling or to the Museum of Fine Arts [at a special time reserved for them.] Young Onset Dementia is a very frightening experience but participants welcome the opportunity to be with others in the same situation,” Israel said. “They need to express themselves, to talk and enjoy life.”

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