September 18, 2023 – Ottawa – As Assistant Coach, Vince Malette helped guide the Ottawa 67s to the Memorial Cup in 1999. Fifteen years later he was diagnosed with young onset dementia. He was 52. While a dementia diagnosis is unfortunately becoming increasingly common, being diagnosed at such a young age is less so.
At the time of diagnosis, he and his wife, Joana, were still raising their two daughters, Alyssa and Amanda. Once they had moved out to start their own lives, Joana imagined a life with Vince, one that she had not had with him spending so much time on the road.
The last nine years have been miles from what she expected. Now as a fulltime caregiver, her life revolves around Vince. As is the case with Alzheimer’s, the disease slowly removes the person, replacing independence with increased need.
“Being a caregiver is not easy,” says Joana. “it’s exhausting at times, and we wear many hats from the time our loved one wakes up until the time they go to bed. When my husband is finally asleep, as I watch him sleep, I say to myself I did my best today to care for you with all my love, and I also made sure I gave myself the care and love that I needed to.”
There are over 600,000 people living with dementia in Canada, 261,000 of which still live at home. They require caregiving, often done by a loved one with some support from outside agencies. But it’s never enough. In 2018, 25% of the population of Canada over 15 years of age was a caregiver. That’s 7.8 million people. Caregiving knows no bounds: young, old, family, friends, all ethnicities, and identities, but rarely do we speak about their value to our community.
As an agency that supports thousands of caregivers each year, Carefor Health & Community Services understands the importance of caregivers. It is for people like Joana, Alyssa and Amanda Malette that they created the Carefor Caregivers’ Garden in Strathcona Park. This pollinator garden which was unveiled on September 16th at a ceremony including Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, Ottawa City Councillor Stephanie Plante, Mike Ritchie from Ritchie Feed & Seed, Carefor CEO, Steve Perry and Joana Malette is intended to a be place for people to come and reflect on a caregiver in their own life.
“While professionals like Carefor staff offer support, caregivers are the true backbone of the healthcare system,” says Carefor CEO, Steve Perry. “Without their daily commitment to the welfare of their loved ones, what we and other healthcare providers do would be impossible. This space is to honour their commitment and sacrifice.”
“Ottawa is a city that cares deeply for its community,” says Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe. “We are grateful to organizations like Carefor, which play a crucial role in recognizing and supporting the caregivers in Ottawa. This garden is a beautiful symbol for caregivers, reinforcing the fact that the care they provide to others is part of their nature.”
“Strathcona Park is a perfect place for the Carefor Caregivers’ Garden,” says Councilor Stéphanie Plante. “It has been created with the support of the City of Ottawa and local community groups such as Action Sandy Hill due to a mutual understanding that caregivers are essential, and we can all do more to recognize and support them. My team and I are proud to be part of this celebration.”
At the event, the Malette family was awarded with the Carefor Caregivers Award recognizing how the family has raised over $120,000 to develop the Vince Malette Functional Fitness Program with Carefor. This program helps people with dementia maintain the mobility lost from the disease.
To learn more about the garden visit caregiversgarden.ca