CORNWALL, Ontario – A story concerning an elderly Cornwall man who was forced to sell his wedding ring to put food on the table for he and his ill wife is serving as a rallying cry to help the poor and sick.
Seaway News this week broke the story of a collection of Cornwall police officers and staff that bought groceries for the couple, and even repurchased the wedding ring on their behalf.
The story has since gone viral. Media outlets including ABC News affiliates in the U.S., the Washington Times, Huffington Post and others based in the U.K. have picked up the story.
But behind the veil of the good work done by the Cornwall police is the narrative of the poor and elderly in the Seaway City – some of whom must resort to extreme measures to put food on the table.
Like selling a 54-year-old wedding ring.
“None of us is unaffected. All of us are affected,” Shelly Vaillancourt, executive director of the local office of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, said of similar cases.
When police arrived at the home of the elderly couple last weekend it was quickly determined the wife suffered from dementia. She had phoned police because her husband was not helping her make some pudding.
Officers also found a home with little to no food. The husband told officers he had recently gone to Money Mart in Cornwall to sell his wedding ring to buy provisions, according to an e-mail shared at city council Monday night by Coun. Andre Rivette.
Officers and staff collected nearly $300 to buy food for the couple, and get the ring back.
Officials say the noble work by police casts a spotlight on what it is like caring for a loved one with dementia, while also existing on a limited income.
“Having a limited income is challenging anyway,” said Vaillancourt. “If you are someone with only old age pension, it’s a struggle to pay for rent and utilities.
“But if one of you has dementia, (respite) services are an additional expense.”
There are some 3,300 people in the region suffering with some form of dementia, said Kim Peterson, vice-president of clinical care with the Champlain Community Care Access Centre (CCAC).
Both CCAC and the Alzheimer Society are now involved in the case.
The services provided by the Alzheimer Society, which typically include day programs that allow caregivers a break while engaging Alzheimer patients with stimulating activities, costs about $18.
It’s not much for people with a regular income – but it can be a monumental expense for the poor.
Vaillancourt said some families use the service as much as three days a week.
Peterson said similar services offered by the CCAC are free, but the amount of hours a week a PSW can engage with a client is limited, depending on the specific circumstances of each individual.
A lower-priority case can receive just one hour a week, while more demanding cases require as much as 15, she said.
“With more money we could do more,” she said. “But that’s a problem for every health-care organization.”
Peterson could not immediately say how much money is spent annually on such programs, but added there are avenues families can avail themselves of to help with care.
“We have an elder mediation (program) where we bring everyone in, people who want to help but don’t know how to offer it,” she said. “The elder mediator will ask ‘How can we help mom and dad?’
“And the people who want to help, find a way to help.”
But what about the recent Cornwall case? The elderly couple that had to sell a wedding ring was childless, and by all accounts had a limited support network.
“One of the problems is (as people age) the friends network drops off,” said Peterson. “We want to benefit clients, wherever the network is.”
Vaillancourt said the recent Cornwall case points to a gradual trend towards creating a so-called “dementia-friendly” community in the Seaway City.
She said with emergency officials (like police, fire and EMS personnel) educating themselves on the signs of dementia, a more adequate response can be applied to specific incidents – like the one on the weekend.
And she said average citizens can be a part of the network too.
“It’s ‘How do I become a part of someone’s circle of care?'” she said. “Sometimes it’s a bystander who pulls over to ask someone why they are dressed a certain way, when they’re outside in the cold.”
More on dementia can be found here.