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2014-01-19 at 11:47

Sharing experiences

By Jodi Lundmark,
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Bill Heibein considers himself one of the lucky ones.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2000, the Thunder Bay man was put in touch with the local Alzheimer's society immediately and prescribed the medication Aricept.

The drug doesn’t work for everyone.

“I’ve been fortunate and now going into my 14th year,” Heibein said Tuesday at the Thunder Bay’s first Memory Café at the Mary J. L. Black Library.

The café is a concept that began in Europe for people with Alzheimer’s and their family members to gather together for just a cup of coffee and discuss how the disease affects their lives. Patrons can also ask questions of experts in the field.

Heibein and his wife run Amethyst Farm and the repetitiveness of his day also helps.

“My day-to-day operations is very consistent,” he said. “The more standardization on a day-to-day basis, the easier it is to operate.”

Susan Bithrey’s husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007; he now lives in fulltime care.

“It’s a club no one wants to belong to at the beginning. Everything changes in your relationship,” she said, adding there are a lot of rules you have to learn along the way.

It’s easier if there is someone to point out the hazards along the way.

Bithrey said the first five years of her husband’s diagnosis was long and she wished they would have attended places like the Memory Café.

“You start to look for people to hang out with who speak the same language as you do,” she said.

“Once his disease deepened, it became even more important to find people of like minds we could be with that understand what we were going through.”

There are many people who can help people dealing with Alzheimer’s navigate the complicated system,” Bithrey added.

“Don’t do it alone because you’re going to burn out,” she said.

The Alzheimer’s Society hopes to hold a Memory Café about three times this year with the potential for more in the future.

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