Alzheimer Society’s social media campaign hits home

Rachel Smith pours her dad, Morgan, a hot beverage at home. SUPPLIED

Rachel Smith pours her dad, Morgan, a hot beverage at home. SUPPLIED

At 26, freelance actor and director Rachel Smith is taking on a new role as her father’s caregiver.

“I went from being his little girl to suddenly being his caregiver,” Smith said about her dad, Morgan, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

The role reversal began in 2012 when she noticed her 69-year-old father had trouble remembering simple tasks.

“The chicken fingers would be burnt to a crisp,” she said. “He’d go and check on them and they’d be done, but he wouldn’t turn the oven off.”

Her mother thought it was depression, but Smith thought something more was going on. Two years later, Morgan went in for testing. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the spring of 2015.

Since then, Smith has seen Morgan’s disease progress rapidly. She said she now reminds him to stay hydrated and go to the bathroom.

“He will get lost. He doesn’t know where the bathroom is,” said Smith.

Smith said she’s seen her dad depart from his usually kind temperament at times, too.

“He said a couple of kind of mean comments toward me,” she said, noting her father has always been a very sweet man. “They made me cry. They really upset me because he’s never been like that before.”

Smith explained that the changes she sees in her father don’t happen all the time. She said she identifies with the #StillHere social media campaign the Alzheimer Society of Canada launched this month. She said she still sees Morgan as himself and knows he can contribute to her life and the lives of people around them.

“It’s still my dad,” Smith said. “He still likes the same things. He can still have a conversation with you. You just have to be a little more patient.”

But not everyone is as patient. Smith said some of her father’s old friends have become more distant.

“It’s kind of sad that when my dad’s going through something like this that instead of trying to help, they’re drifting away,” she said.

Wendy Schettler, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba, said some people neglect Alzheimer’s patients, which, in turn, can cause people with the disease to further pull away from the world.

“Instead of jumping to the end of their illness, stay with them where they are now,” she said.

Smith said she’s witnessed her dad’s excitement whenever he anticipates visiting a loved one.

“You can see it in his whole body,” she said, noting her dad will put his boots on two hours before they’re scheduled to leave.