The wife of a St. Albert man suffering from the same rare form of dementia that former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein lived with is sharing their story, hoping Klein’s notoriety may help raise more awareness about the disease.

Jackie Polis has been visiting the Youville Nursing Home in St. Albert every few days for the past 10 years.

Jackie’s husband Myron has Pick’s disease, a form of an already rare form of dementia called frontotemporal dementia.

“(He) went into depression, became psychotic, and that’s when we discovered through all the treatments and counselling that he had the Pick’s disease,” Jackie said.

At the time of diagnosis, Myron had been in his early 60s and was planning for retirement.

“Actually marking the calendar for retirement and it kind of just blew his retirement as well, he never really saw retirement,” Jackie said.

The disease began to affect Myron’s memory and mobility.

“You can tell me a person’s name and an hour later, I forgot it,” Myron said.

When Jackie was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the couple decided Myron needed round-the-clock care in a nursing home.

“I miss my wife,” Myron said. “I was on the road for 30 years driving a truck and then I get this damn disease and she lives in one place and I live in another.”

Very rare form of dementia

There are few people in Alberta with frontotemporal dementia and even fewer with Pick’s disease.

“It is very rare, Pick’s disease in particular, is very, very rare,” says Bill Gaudette with the Alzheimer Society. “I don’t even have a number… we’re really drilling down to very small numbers.”

Patients are typically diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 70.

Gaudette says people will start to show symptoms caused by the degeneration of the frontal lobe.

Click here to learn more about frontotemporal dementia

“Typically the frontal lobe is that part of the brain that does what we call executive functioning so it could be language, it could be behaviour, those kinds of things are controlled by the frontal lobe,” Gaudette explained.

Gaudette says most cases of dementia are cases of Alzheimer’s but there are other, more rare forms of dementia such as frontotemporal dementia and within that – an even rarer subset of frontotemporal dementia called Pick’s disease.

Ralph Klein diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is what the late Ralph Klein had been diagnosed with two years ago.

Jackie says Klein’s notoriety might help raise awareness about the disease.

“They always think dementia is all about Alzheimer’s when there are so many others,” Jackie said.

Jackie says she can understand what the Klein family has gone through.

“When Myron first was diagnosed I tried to find out all the information I could find to make me aware of what it was all about and what is to be expected down the road. It has made me very strong and it has made me more aware,” Jackie said.

Myron’s health continues to deteriorate.

Jackie says her husband is now unsteady on his feet and his sense of time is off.

While she misses her social and active husband, she says after almost 52 years of marriage, and raising three children together, of course she remains loyal by Myron's side.

“I’m here quite a bit,” Jackie said.

About 10,000 Albertans are diagnosed with some form of dementia each year.

With files from Carmen Leibel