By Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye
On Jun. 1, 2002 Jeff Timmermans went on a bike ride. It lasted four months.
Timmermans, 83, from Stratford, Ont., is not your average Canadian senior citizen. He has been travelling the country to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease through his family memories and a journey, that took him and his bike across the country.
Timmermans was at St. Mary’s Anglican Church on Sept. 21, at their Alzheimer’s Coffee Break to raise funds and awareness of the disease.
His book, Miles for Memories, An Alzheimer Caregiver’s Journey, tells his life story with his wife, and what happened to the family after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Timmermans said while his wife was alive he joined a bike club to stay in shape and had the idea to ride his bike across the country to raise awareness and support for Alzheimer’s. He started training and rode about 100 kilometres per day to get himself prepared for the long trip. He was 73 when he started.
Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island was the starting point and it ended in Cape Spear, N.L., the eastern most point in North America, 8,240 kilometres in total. Timmermans said the trip was not easy but they were able to raise $50,000.
“It was just a privilege to see the country and people, and it was quite an emotional roller coaster,” said Timmermans.
It took Timmermans six years to write the book; he had to care for his wife at the same time so he did not rush to write it. His wife died just as he was about to finish writing. “It was as if my wife was saying to me, ‘All right Jeff, you can write the final chapter.’”
Miles for Memories is a self-published book that has been promoted from the ground up. Mom and pop stores have sold the book and Timmermans has been the public relations force.
“We rented a small hall to fit 50 to 60 people and there were people waiting in line to buy the book,” he said about when the book first came out.
The room filled up and they sold 200 books. Since then the book has gone through its third printing and Timmermans has been travelling the country to promote the story and to talk to people about Alzheimer’s.
“First I was going to do it next year but I thought, Jeff, you’re going to be 84 next year,” when Timmermans talked about his plans to promote the story.
He brought the original bike with him, but it was stolen on his first night in Winnipeg, Man. Support has been wonderful because friends and family raised some money to get him a new bike, which he rides 40 to 50 kilometres daily.
Timmermans’ advice to people attending the coffee break was to have compassion for people suffering with Alzheimer’s and to remember there is life after the disease.
There are three types of Alzheimer’s: early onset, although rare, is found in people under 65, late onset, the most common affecting people over 65, and familial, which can be found in a person’s genes. It is fairly rare and would affect two generations to be considered familial.
New research has begun at the Douglas Mental Health University in Montreal to study the prevention of Alzheimer’s. Scientists suggest the focus should be on prevention instead of trying to cure the disease. Researchers are saying 10 years of study have not shown positive results and changing the focus is a good step to helping people to understand the cause.
They will recruit 250 adults over age 60 who have had or now have an immediate family member with Alzheimer’s to determine the methods most effective at prevention of the disease. If you are interested in this study go to: www.prevent-alzheimer.ca
Stages of Alzheimer’s
If someone you care about has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, you may be wondering what to expect as the illness takes its course.
First of all, you should know that Alzheimer’s disease affects everyone differently, so people go through the various stages at different rates.
On average, the duration of the disease is seven to 10 years, although this can be shortened when diagnosis is delayed, and it may be much longer in some people.
And while it’s true that people with the illness will lose many of the abilities they once had, it’s best to focus on the abilities that remain so you can make the most of the time you have together.
Alzheimer’s disease can be divided into the following four main stages:
Mild or early stage
• Cognitive and memory problems may appear
• Communication problems and mild forgetfulness begin
• Personality changes occur
• Physical changes begin
Moderate or mid stage
• Significant cognitive decline and memory problems
• Impaired communication skills
• Personality changes become more significant
• Idiosyncratic behaviours evolve
• Increasing dependence and need for help with the activities of daily living
• Physical decline progresses
Severe or late stage
• Cognitive and memory problems further decline
• Verbal skills are nearly gone
• Voluntary control of the body increasingly disappears
• Complete dependence on others
• Health declines considerably
• The body shuts down
• Idiosyncratic behaviours
End of life
• Physical and emotional changes
As a terminal illness, Alzheimer’s disease progresses until the end of life, when extensive care is required. At that point, the focus should be on palliative care — promoting quality of life and comfort — by addressing the person’s physical and emotional needs.