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Dawna Friesen: Global News Anchor and Caregiver

Dawna Friesen: Global News Anchor and Caregiver

Managing Editor

Many recognize Dawna Friesen as the face that delivers their news, daily; but few know that the Global National anchor and executive editor is also the daughter of two parents with dementia.

On April 26, she will be featured on the Global documentary show 16×9. The hour-long segment, titled Unspooling the Mind, follows individuals in the Netherlands, Thailand and Canada over the course of 48 hours, to explore how families in three separate continents cope with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Friesen, along with other caregivers, will share her experiences navigating her ever-changing, and often challenging, relationship with her parents.

Earlier this year, Friesen, who lives in Vancouver, published a blog on Global’s website about her caregiving experience. In it, she speaks to the struggle of watching her parents become unrecognizable.

Friesen’s mother, Vivien, and father, Henry, have both lived with the illness for years, though they were never formally diagnosed. While her mother can still recognize her immediate family, her dad can no longer identify his loved ones.

Prior to her illness, Friesen’s mother loved travel and politics, and always made sure to be up on the latest news. Her father was more of a homebody, who loved working on the family’s grain farm in Winnipeg.

Now, Friesen recalls how her dad, who has macular degeneration as well, wandered into the wrong room at his care facility and got slugged. She also explains how her mom’s behavior changed as she became more profoundly affected by the disease. “She became suspicious, sometimes paranoid. Mean to people she wasn’t mean to before,” Friesen says. “I wasn’t prepared for that at first.”

Recognizing her parents were developing dementia was difficult for Friesen, especially since her mother attempted to cover up her memory loss. Since her parents lived in another province, it wasn’t until Friesen’s mom came to visit that she realized something was wrong.

“She would forget where the bathroom in my house was, or say that she’d had pea soup for lunch even when I knew there was none in the house.”

Friesen calls for greater public discussion about the disease, and improved support for both those living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. She hopes to see the development of a national standard for care in nursing homes across the country. She also stresses the need for better  access to home care, particularly in rural areas.

But none of that can start until we begin discussing Alzheimer’s and dementia more openly. “It’s not dinner party conversation, it doesn’t come up,” she says. “But if we don’t talk about it, nothing is going to change.”

GlobalTV continues the conversation on Saturday.

Unspooling the Mind aired on Global on April 26.

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Megan Jones

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