Longtime Hamilton referee George Montani and wife Karyn share their battle with his dementia together, with courage and forthrightness.
Karyn Montani recalls the exact, terrifying moment she knew that George, her husband of three decades and a well-known local football referee, was in serious trouble.
It was June 2013. They were in the car in the vicinity of the McNab Street bus terminal. George, an audiovisual contractor, had to make a small adjustment to one of the terminal’s digital video screens.
George, who was driving, told his wife he would just run in and return so they could save on parking. George stopped the car, got out and headed into the terminal, as Karyn got out to get in the driver’s seat.
But, he didn’t put the car in park. As the vehicle inched closer and closer to five lanes of King Street East traffic, Karyn had to frantically run around the car, climb into the driver’s side and pull the emergency brake.
George is also among the two to 10 per cent of those living with dementia to show symptoms before the age of 65.
“I wish you hadn’t said that,” George protests during an interview. “That makes me embarrassed.”
“But George, these are important things about this disease that people need to know,” Karyn interjects. “It’s important that people understand.”
She knew. She didn’t know exactly what. But she knew a sinister presence had wormed its way into the couple’s lives.
The final diagnosis came last November. Alzheimer’s. Dementia, specifically.
“The timeline isn’t great. It isn’t great. Anywhere from five to 10 years after diagnosis in terms of being institutionalized,” Karyn said.
“My goal, and we have discussed it … my goal is to have him with me as long as I possibly can. So what the doctor said to me is ‘The more help you get, the healthier and saner you can stay, the longer you will be able to care for him.'”
George is one of 747,000 Canadians currently living with dementia. That number is expected to double to 1.4 million by 2031. George is also among the two to 10 per cent of those living with dementia to show symptoms before the age of 65.
The Canadian government only recently announced it will devise a dementia strategy, which would, hopefully, provide additional financial relief for caregivers to care for their loved ones at home. But it’s a long way from being realized.
“What they do is they make it hard,” said Karyn, 59, adding she should be able to collect her CPP now. George is entitled to CPP disability. “I’m going to have to fight to get my CPP early,” she said, adding the income will be necessary to help pay for George’s home care.
Last month, George was honoured by football officials far and wide at a pre-game ceremony before a McMaster football game. There, along with Karyn and the couple’s two grown children, Kate and Alycin, and son-in-law Aaron, George was feted with gifts, including a glass-framed replica of his number 52 official’s jersey. No one at the game was told the reason why the 57-year-old referee who had officiated thousands of minor, high school, university and senior amateur football contests had hung up the whistle.
Only those close to the couple knew the name of the foe that had forced him from the playing field.