Dorothy Gibbs is the honouree at the Alzheimer Society's Walk for Memories

In living memory

Volunteer Dorothy Gibbs to be honoured at this year's Alzheimer's walk in Surrey.

It’s almost a certainty that on the morning of July 10, Dorothy Gibbs will stroll down to White Rock beach, sit on one favourite bench, and remember.

With any luck, she’ll witness a train pass by.

Dorothy, 81, has done this annual pilgrimage for the 10 years since her husband Robert (Bob) passed away.

That bench on West Beach was part of a daily ritual for the two of them.

Bob would swim at 6 a.m. at a local pool. Then eat breakfast. Then he and Dorothy would sit on the bench at the beach. They wouldn’t leave until a train had passed by.

The importance of a daily routine for someone like her husband was something Dorothy had known for some time.

She learned it at an Alzheimer’s caregiver support group she attended after her husband was first diagnosed with the disease.

Around the time of his retirement, Bob, a gregarious, humourous man, showed signs that something was wrong with his memory.

After some time, a concerned Dorothy sought advice at an Alzheimer’s Society open house in White Rock.

The greeter welcomed Dorothy with a hug and asked how she could help.

“I just collapsed in tears and left,” Dorothy now recalls with a chuckle.

She did come back, of course, learned what she could, and over time, managed to convince her husband’s health care providers he was indeed having problems and was good at hiding them behind good Scottish cheer and banter.

Avalon Tournier, the support and education coordinator for Surrey/North Delta/White Rock at The Alzheimer Society of B.C., remembers Bob as “likable and quick-witted.”

While he attended a support group for those with Alzheimer’s, Dorothy took on the challenge as a caregiver and found out what she could at her own support groups.

She learned about the importance of routine, tidiness and simple communication to help her husband cope during his slow cognitive decline.

She was taught to use distractions when her husband repeated the same sentences – it was also a way to reduce his frustration, since he knew things weren’t right.

For years, he swam every morning.

“It was very good for him,” says Dorothy.

He only stopped swimming about two years before his death (from an illness not related to Alzheimer’s disease) because of an argument in the change room.

Bob was stunned when an acquaintance asked him point-blank: “Why can’t you carry on an intelligent conversation?”

Bob turned around and said he had Alzheimer’s disease and never went back.

Dorothy describes another incident following his death two years later.

After her husband’s memorial service, Dorothy asked one of her two daughters about why she didn’t grieve at the event that day like the rest of the family.

The daughter replied that her grieving began the day she was told her father had Alzheimer’s disease.

After he died, Dorothy continued volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Society, organizing support groups, and she still makes calls to remind clients of upcoming meetings.

This month, she’s the honouree at the society’s annual Walk for Memories fundraiser event for the Surrey/North Delta/White Rock region.

The Investors Group Walk for Memories in support of the Alzheimer’s Society of British Columbia takes place on Jan. 25 from 1-3:30 p.m. at Eaglequest Golf at Coyote Creek, 7778 152 St. Registration begins at 11 a.m. For more details, visit www.alzheimerbc.org

 

70,000 reasons to walk

 

• Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and degenerative brain illness, which causes thinking and memory to become seriously impaired.

• Several medications are available to treat some symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, they do not stop its progression.

• More than 70,000 British Columbians have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

• 10,000 of them are under 65.

• Women represent 72 per cent of Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease.

• The Alzheimer’s Society works to promote brain health, support those living with the disease and their families, challenge the stigma of Alzheimer’s disease, and support research for effective treatments and a cure.