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Leonard family navigates tough journey through Alzheimer’s

Roseanne Leonard and her dad, Blair, pose with a photo of their late mother and wife, Elizabeth, earlier this week. The pair were on hand at the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador sharing the story of the journey Elizabeth went through during the six years she suffered from the form of dementia.
Roseanne Leonard and her dad, Blair, pose with a photo of their late mother and wife, Elizabeth, earlier this week. The pair were on hand at the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador sharing the story of the journey Elizabeth went through during the six years she suffered from the form of dementia. - Sam McNeish

When she got nervous or anxious, she’d clench her hands and rub her thumbs quickly back and forth across them.

It was a common activity for Elizabeth Leonard during the mid- to late stages of her Alzheimer’s disease.

During those times, a large steady hand would reach out to offer a calming touch. It was her husband Blair’s hand. They were married for more than four decades.

“We loved each other very much,” Blair said, tears welling in his eyes as he spoke of his wife.

“We were very close and did everything together. If I had the choice of going out right now and finding someone new, or having Elizabeth as sick as she was, I would take her like that over anything.’’

Navigating Elizabeth’s Alzheimer’s disease was tough for her and her family, but the tight-knit group and extended network of family and friends banded together to make the journey as easy as possible.

"If I had the choice of going out right now and finding someone new, or having Elizabeth as sick as she was, I would take her like that over anything.’’ — Blair Leonard

“My dad and mom had a close relationship, but were independent of each other as well,’’ said Roseanne Leonard, one of Elizabeth’s four children.

“She needed him through this. Dad took a partial retirement to stay home and care for Mom and then the rest of us all pitched in.”

Roseanne is one of two ambassadors selected by the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador to share their stories and speak about their experiences as a family. The Ennis Sisters are the other ambassadors and they have spoken publicly about their experiences with their father, John, who had dementia.

Roseanne described her mother, an educator who loved English and math, as “wicked, awesome and my best friend for life,” when asked about their relationship.

She said her mother’s diagnosis — which came on Oct. 25, 2010 — was unprecedented in their family. They had other ailments to deal with, like high blood pressure, but never anything like this.

While the family was shocked by the diagnosis, Elizabeth took the wheel and told them, “It is what it is. I won’t let it get me down.”

Those words became the mantra that family and friends adopted.

As matriarch of the family, which includes daughters Roseanne, Heather and Andrea and son Matthew, it was usually Elizabeth who helped diffuse tough situations.

After her diagnosis, that changed. In her latter years, she could become confused and scared. Once she called out for her husband, who happened not to be with her when she was going for bloodwork.

“A young male nurse didn’t hesitate, and reached for her hand and said, ‘I’m here,’” Roseanne recalled.

“It instantly calmed her. I may not remember what he looks like, or what else he did that evening, but I will always remember his voice and the words he spoke.’’

Elizabeth was just 56 when she learned she had Alzheimer’s. She died six years later, on April 3, 2016.

Elizabeth was born in Point Verde, Placentia Bay, the third of nine children.

Her passion was to become a teacher, so she went to the city to pursue her dreams. While attending Memorial University in St. John’s, she met Blair — first as friends. They eventually got engaged and married in 1975.

Throughout her career, she juggled raising a family with substitute teaching and being a willing friend and confidante for her children and their friends.

“The door was always open at our house. It was an active house. Mom wouldn’t hesitate to have a conversation with any of our friends,’’ Roseanne said.
samuel.mcneish@thetelegram.com


Tips for coping with Alzheimer’s

Everyone who has a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease will have their own experiences. Roseanne Leonard offers some helpful tips to guide people along the way, based on conversations

she had with her mother during the early stages of the disease. She says:

• “Have tough discussions when times are good. That made it easier to make decisions for my mom, because we had been so close, and I felt that I knew what she would want.”

• Dementia requires more than tolerance — it requires acceptance. Even though the disease can rob someone of their voice, it’s still important to have a conversation with them.

• A hug can heal so many worries.

• Music can replace words and evoke memories.

• “Taking care of my dad (who was my mom’s primary caregiver) was as important as taking care of Mom. Caregiving can be required for more than just the person with the diagnosis.”

Source: Alzheimer Society Newfoundland and Labrador


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