One covers a lot of important stories over the course of a distinguished journalism career. Carolyn Mackenzie is no stranger to reporting on the critical news and hot topics of the day. One such topic is dementia.
As the co-host for Global TV’s popular a.m. talk show program The Morning Show since 2015, Mackenzie has made it a priority to discuss dementia and brain health with her viewers as often as she can. The need, she says, comes from her own family experience of watching her grandfather struggle with dementia when she was in her teens.
“Like so many, the decline was gradual with my grandfather. We started to notice certain things along the way. He had mood swings initially and angered quickly, which was unusual for him,” she told BrainMatters in a recent interview on the set of The Morning Show in Toronto. “He’d get disoriented driving. When all these things began happening more regularly, we knew it was time to get him assessed.”
Mackenzie adds, “His decline seemed to quicken after he was diagnosed. It was alarming and devastating all at once. His aggression became more physical. That’s when we all realized he needed professional help.
And that was done not only for his own safety but my grandmother’s as well.” She said her grandmother, now 96, became determined to live her life to the fullest after watching her husband’s decline and living as a caregiver in that isolation zone that occurs when anyone is put in that position.
Did her parents talk to her about what was happening with her grandfather? “Probably not enough,” Mackenzie says. “I could only imagine how frustrating it was for my grandmother. There was this feeling of helplessness watching it all happen,” she says. What’s more, Mackenzie notes is that “dementia is one of those diseases that I don’t think [caregivers] understand that well until you’re in it. And then it becomes important to educate yourself about what your loved one is going through and how best to care for them.”
That said, ever since her grandfather’s passing, her grandmother has become a terrific example to her family — “a living science experiment for brain health,” she says — of what one needs to do to stay brain healthy.
Her grandmother, Mackenzie says, is “all about living the adage ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it.’ She’s keeping very active, keeping her mind occupied and staying socially connected. She’s in a retirement home now, [and] she’s the head of their library, the dance group and the exercise group. She is adamant that one’s life needs to have purpose. I think that’s the key to her brain health.” In 2005, Mackenzie joined the Global Television Network, and in 2006 won an Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in journalism. Over the years, she has featured dementia discussions on The Morning Show as well. “Health and wellness is a big part of our show.
Diet, physical activity and mental wellness are crucial for brain health,” she says. “They are also constants on our show, especially in letting people know they have to prioritize their brain health.”
Mackenzie knows how crucial Baycrest’s work is in the fight to defeat dementia. “Growing up in Toronto, I have so many friends and colleagues whose family members have benefitted so much from Baycrest over the years,” she says. “Baycrest is important to all of us.”