Helping Those Who Help

It's Time For Women To Take Care of Themselves

Dr. Tiffany Chow The Memory Clinic

I have felt incredibly gratified to see such a warm welcome for my first book, The Memory Clinic.

In it are lessons that seem to resonate with many others—whether they are currently caregivers or are worried about who might take care of them in case dementia affects them. To hear that my words are helpful beyond the walls of my clinic at Baycrest—where I’ve test-driven the impact of my advice and encouragement—adds meaning to my life and those of my patients who have lived with dementia.

Among the earliest feedback was my new nurse Calen’s tale of how The Memory Clinic prompted a discussion with her young son about how “Girls can’t be doctors!” She was initially horrified to hear this from her son, who would not believe that I was both a woman and a doctor. So she and her husband used this opportunity to speak with him over dinner, and then he had his own “Helen Keller moment." He said, “Does that mean I could become a dance instructor? Or an artist?” His face brightened with the expanded potential of his future life. Wow.

Not what I’d written the book for, but what a terrific outcome that I continue to celebrate.

I think women in particular run the danger of having our best skills act against us. We can multitask, organize, network people together, show loving kindness and provide care for others without thinking about it twice. BUT WE SHOULD. These qualities can put us at risk for taking too little care of ourselves.

Yes, you arranged for several playdates for the kids this week, but did you book a reality check with a girlfriend? You booked the family vacation and somehow did the whole darn thing on Aeroplan miles, but did you and your partner take out time to discuss (just the two of you!) how to help each other feel safe, loved, happy and healthy? You’ve visited the nursing home every day to make sure your loved one is fed properly and is up out of bed, but what’s the status of your diet, body image, and exercise plan? Ultimately, the best defenses against being struck down by dementia have to do with how much self-compassion you have practiced over decades. Let’s talk about that at the YMC Book Club on January 28th.

In the meantime, please consider walking with me at the Alzheimer Society’s Manulife Walk for Memories on Saturday, January 26th.

A prominent clinician and neuroscientist at the Baycrest Rotman Research Institute, Dr. Tiffany Chow has devoted most of her career to the study of Alzheimer’s disease—in particular, early onset dementia. She has seen first-hand how the disease progresses in her patients, and also how the disease greatly affects the families and caregivers of individuals living with dementia. In THE MEMORY CLINIC, Dr. Chow offers knowledge and hope for an illness that has no cure. “This book is a summary of what I’ve learned through my research or from my colleagues about prevention and management of dementia. Even where there is a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, people at risk can do things to prevent its onset or progression.”

Dr. Chow speaks with the knowledge that she, too, may someday be affected by the disease: through her grandmother Ah Quan, born in 1906 in Hawaii of Chinese ancestry, Dr. Chow has a genetic legacy of Alzheimer’s disease. Comparing her life with her grandmother’s, she investigates what she and others can do to mitigate the impact of genetics through nutrition, exercise, and the concepts of cerebral reserve and brain plasticity. But it is in her front-line role managing the suffering caused by dementia and aiding caregivers where Chow’s compassionate voice is most inspiring. To meet the challenges of caregiving, she emphasizes that both patients and caregivers need to feel safe, healthy, happy, and loved. Meeting these basic needs daily takes skill at balancing life’s demands and is itself part of the protective shield against dementia’s effects.