Laughter preserving memory

When Sheida Richardson looks at her father, Ted Richardson, she sees a man with a great sense of humour, a man who loves to make others laugh.

“He’s always been one to tell jokes, and for me, when he stops telling jokes will be the day he’s not himself anymore,” she said.

Humour has also served as a coping mechanism for the family in dealing with Ted Richardson’s disease. For some time now, his cognitive abilities have been noticeably declining since doctors diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Sometimes we use (jokes) to laugh off things that he’ll forget to do,” Richardson said. “So he knows that there’s not anything wrong with him, by turning it around and making it something funny so he can laugh about it too.”

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain that severely impairs thinking and memory. The Alzheimer Society estimates that within a generation, 1,100,000 Canadians will have Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. The projected cost to Canadians of coping with the disease is $152 billion.

On Saturday, Richardson volunteered at the 2010 Manulife Walk for Memories at the Allen Lambert Galleria in Toronto. Besides the fundraising walk through the underground PATH network, the event consisted of live music, dancing and a costume contest. People also attached notes to a Wall of Memories to honour and remember loved-ones affected by Alzheimer’s disease. The event raised $527,000 to support families dealing with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is often extremely hard on the relatives and friends of those with the disease. Richardson still has to remind herself not to blame her father for his mental errors.

“I actually fight against that everyday. Every time something happens it’s like, ‘OK, stop. Rethink this situation … It’s something that’s affecting him, it’s not him,’” Richardson said. “You have to reprogram your mind to take every situation as it comes and don’t misunderstand.”

Sheida Richardson found the Walk for Memories event valuable both because it raises money and because it brings people together.

“You meet a lot of people here who are experiencing the same thing as you, so you know you’re not alone,” Richardson said.