Vancouver — Betty Kellogg sits in her sunny living room and flips through a photo album that has become part of her memory bank. A stroke at 75 and then Alzheimer’s at 78 have blasted a hole in her brain’s ability to remember, so she snaps pictures of everything she sees and stores her memories in the three-ring binders that line the wall next to her.
“I love to sit for hours and flip through them and recall all the things we saw, what the weather was like, what fish we caught,” she says.
Alzheimer’s may be a chronic disease, but Betty and her husband Bob, who are both approaching 80, demonstrate a determination to find ways to compensate for Betty’s disability rather than surrender to it.
Indeed, the couple still kayaks up the B.C. coastline every summer, refusing to give up a passion for the wilderness that has sustained them for more than 30 years.
“Our lives have changed, but with the help of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. we have adjusted and found that we are able to continue to be active and enjoy the outdoor activities that have meant so much to us,” says Bob.
When Betty was diagnosed, both of them dug into research to learn as much as possible about the disease.
“We read, read, read, read, read, to get some idea of what we were dealing with,” says Bob. Then they took a course offered by the Alzheimer Society of B.C. In addition, Bob took a caregivers course and joined a support group for male caregivers and Betty started attending a healthy brain program.
Because of their attitude, this year’s Vancouver Walk for Memories (held Jan. 30), the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s major fundraiser, was held in their name.
Executive director Jean Blake hopes that in the years to come, as the number of people living with the disease grows, others will follow the Kelloggs’ example.
“The Kelloggs demonstrate that life is not over once you get the diagnosis,” says Blake.
“We are hoping it will become a more common response. The disease takes eight to 10 years to progress and in the early to moderate stages, you can still have a good quality of life.”
The walk involved over 5,000 participants in 20 locations across B.C.
Last year it raised $600,000 for the society, essential funds that go mostly to the support and educational programs offered by the society.
The B.C. group also contributes $400,000 to research.
But when you consider that Alzheimer’s affects 70,000 people in B.C. and that more people over 65 have Alzheimer’s than either cancer or heart disease, the funds directed to it are paltry in comparison.
And with baby boomers entering the at-risk years for dementia, all estimates suggest that the disease will dominate health services in the future. In the last year alone, the B.C. society conservatively estimates it served 10 per cent more people than in 2009.
“The potential cost of dementia to the community is becoming huge and will dominate everything else,” says Dr. Jack Diamond, scientific director for the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
Diamond says research money is badly needed to allow researchers to focus on new ideas. For many years, all the attention has gone into how to eliminate the amyloid protein that causes plaque and tangles to develop in the brain.
But recent studies have shown that it is possible to have a brain full of plaque and not have dementia and that it is also possible to have dementia without plaque.
In the meantime, researchers know for certain that socializing, using your brain, good nutrition and exercise are the best practices to reduce the risk of developing the disease and slowing its progression.