Penticton couple shares story of their dementia journey to raise awareness
Penticton couple Stella Adams, 80, and Willi Brombach, 87, fell in love 42 years ago on the dance floor.
The new Canadian immigrants and single parents met at a support group in Ottawa in 1977.
“The first time he asked me to dance, I think I refused him. There was something about him, so about three weeks later, I went back with a girlfriend to the Single Parents [Association] again and I really felt bad so I went over and I asked him [to dance],” Adams said.
“We danced and that was it!,” Adams said.
“I always wondered whether she would take on a guy with two kids, and she did, and I’m very grateful,” Brombach said.
The couple’s love story continued as they married in 2007. The pair has lived in the Okanagan for 25 years. Brombach is a retired mechanic and Adams a retired executive secretary.
About three years ago, as the couple planned to move to Penticton from Naramata, B.C., Brombach said he noticed a change in his wife’s behaviour.
“She was very negative about this whole procedure and that’s when I noticed. She was usually very positive,” he said on Tuesday.
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Adams was eventually diagnosed with dementia. “I balled my eyes out,” she said. She was worried.
“Just never see friends and family — it was stupid because, of course, I wasn’t going to pass away the next day. And then once I calmed down after the first two or three days, everything was fine.”
Adams and Brombach are sharing their story as January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
It is estimated that there are 70,000 British Columbians living with dementia.
According to the Ministry of Health, the number of people living with a diagnosis of dementia in the Okanagan has increased from 4,311 in 2005/2006 to 7,063 in 2014/2015.
Right now, there are more than 564,000 Canadians living with dementia and in the next 15 years, close to one million Canadians will have the brain disease.
The combined health-care system and out-of-pocket caregiver costs across Canada total an estimated $10.4 billion per year.
Mary Beth Rutherford is the support and education co-ordinator with the Penticton office of the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
She said raising awareness to encourage early diagnosis and treatment could help dementia patients in the early stages of the disease.
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“People say, ‘Oh mom is confused but people don’t really understand the depth of that confusion, so understanding what dementias are and how they impact the individual living with dementia and also their families,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t even go to get a diagnosis because they’re afraid that things will change.”
Rutherford added that due to the Okanagan’s aging population and longer life expectancies, resources to support dementia patients are stretched.
“I think we are going to be stretched in the health field to provide all the care that we need, so I think it’s something that we as a society and as a government have to start looking at,” she said.
Rutherford said recent media reports of care-home deaths in the Okanagan linked to resident-on-resident aggression among dementia patients is concerning.
“We want everyone to be safe. It’s very unfortunate and a very sad thing for their families,” she said.
“The hard part is sometimes, people with difficult behaviours and finding a place for them can be a struggle. It’s a disease that we really truly don’t fully understand so it’s difficult to support people with those extreme sides of dementia.”
Brombach said he doesn’t think much about the future and hopes they can both live independently for as long as possible.
“I imagine it will be quite challenging when it gets down to the nitty gritty but so far, she’s very self-sufficient,” he said.
When asked about care-home safety, Adams said: “I’ve thought about it and I’m probably quite naïve but I’m always saying, ‘Not me, of course, I’m going to be able to fight them off.'”
The couple is encouraging members of the public to get informed about the brain disease that causes a long-term and often gradual decrease in memory and a person’s ability to function.
“In the early stages of dementia, we can hear and talk and answer so we would like to be treated as normal people,” Adams said.
“Don’t be afraid of asking questions, because it’s going to be a major problem,” Brombach added.
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