Amazing Grace: Enjoying Alzheimer's !

the mission: to give sufferers and carers an alternative to drugs

The Vancouver Sun PDF  | Print |  E-mail

This is what love is (Karen Gram)

Interview with Ray Smith and review . Link to article (copyright Vancouver Sun)

When Alzheimer's tried to cloud Ray and Grace Smith's lives, they agreed to live in the sun

Karen Gram, Vancouver Sun

Published: Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ray Smith sits in the lobby of a Vancouver newsroom shuffling his papers and hoping someone will listen to his story. At 77, the widower used the equity of his home in England to travel to Vancouver with an amazing tale. A tale about love, Alzheimer's disease and how he and his wife Grace challenged the medical establishment's approach to the disease she developed in her mid-50s.

About 24 million people, 42,500 of them in B.C., have Alzheimer's and Smith wants them, their caregivers and their physicians to see the illness differently.

People with Alzheimer's don't have to stop living, he says. In the 12 years that Grace lived with Alzheimer's, they lived life to the fullest. "In the final year, I promised Grace, 'We've had such a wonderful time, I must tell the world,' " he says, and he spent his savings doing so.

"There's 24 million victims of Alzheimer's or dementia who do not need to suffer," he says. They don't need to shut themselves away or take drugs that further stupefy them and require more drugs to counter the side effects.

Smith's story begins in 1991 in his Glasgow kitchen. He and Grace were enjoying a cup of cocoa. Grace picked up a shirt to replace a button. At 56, with four children, Grace had mended many shirts. But this day, she couldn't seem to get her fingers to thread the needle.

Watching her over the rim of his cup, Ray observed her growing frustration. "It's probably nothing," he assured her. But the incident ignited a small flicker of worry in him.

Grace had been forgetful lately, but Ray had just put it down to the normal memory lapses of a woman in her mid-50s. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized he'd been blind to the signs until confronted by that problematic button. The address book in the fridge, butter melting in the oven, lost keys.

Both Grace and Ray, who became a travelling art dealer, had trained as nurses and both had done stints in geriatrics. They knew this was more than just middle age. This could be Alzheimer's, they admitted to each other.

They were right. Death was already tapping Grace on the shoulder and she knew it would take her out in the slowest and most undignified of ways.

Ray knew that too and mourned. After nearly 30 years, he still loved Grace with the same passion he'd felt when he first met her in St. Giles Hospital in London.

Both classical music lovers and peace activists, their views meshed, giving their marriage a good foundation for a good life.

Sitting down together, they agreed they had a choice. They could submit to the disease and watch Grace gradually lose her faculties. Or they could embrace it.

"What do you want to do?" Ray asked her.

"I want to travel the world," she said.


Travel they would, but in those first days after the diagnosis, Ray also swore he would never abandon his beloved Grace to the worst of Alzheimer's indignities. No darkened rooms in nursing homes. No drugs either, they agreed. As Grace lost her cognitive ability, Ray would find alternative ways to care for her, to make the best of life. He just hoped he could convince people he was doing the right thing.

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