Walk for Memories to honour West Kelowna man

Jim Catterson holds a picture of his baseball team at his home in West Kelowna. Catterson, who has vascular dementia, is the honouree at this year
Jim Catterson holds a picture of his baseball team at his home in West Kelowna. Catterson, who has vascular dementia, is the honouree at this year's Kelowna Walk for Memories. The walk raises funds for people in the community who are living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.
— image credit: Wade Paterson/Capital News

During the 40 years Jim Catterson was a sales representative in the carpet industry, he never used a day planner.

"I never missed an appointment," said Catterson, sitting in his West Kelowna home Friday morning.

So when he began leaving things behind and becoming forgetful in the years leading up to retirement, Catterson and his wife, Judy, assumed it was just absentmindedness, brought on by stress.

Even the doctor agreed it was probably nothing serious, at first. He told Catterson it was likely a side-effect of old age.

But, while Catterson was playing baseball one afternoon, it became clearer something was wrong.

He chased down a fly ball, made the catch, and then, rather than throwing the ball back to the infield, he stood still while his teammates and his coach yelled at him.

"I would've booted the guy off who did that," said Catterson, laughing.

Later on, in a different game, he found himself chasing down a ball when his hat flew off. Instead of completing the play, he turned around and went after his hat.

Understanding his memory lapses were likely caused by something other than old age, Catterson saw a specialist who confirmed the former carpet salesman had vascular dementia.

"In the back of my mind I knew I had something that was serious, but that was not what I was expecting."

After realizing his condition, Catterson was tempted to quit playing baseball, but his team encouraged him not to.

He took their advice, but it wasn't easy. Catterson had to reteach himself basic rules of the game, such as which way to run around the bases.

"It frustrated me, but I didn't give up. I thought: I'm going to beat this."

Dementia has made day-to-day tasks difficult for Catterson as well. Following his doctor's advice, he gave up his driver's licence as soon as he was diagnosed.

"I wasn't happy about it; that was probably the hardest thing I had to do."

He credited Judy for helping him get through difficult tasks; Judy said she has been appreciative of the caregiver support group meetings put on by the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

"They provide lots of information to people who want to learn to deal with what dementia is…and planning for the future," said Judy.

"We try to keep it as simple as we can."

Catterson attends an early stage support group twice a month, which he said is also helpful.

Throughout the interview Catterson and his wife spoke optimistically about the disorder; however, near the end, Catterson shed light on the difficult reality of dementia.

"It's a shitty, shitty disease…it takes everything," said Catterson.

"You hear stories. There was a guy talking to his grandson, and later (he heard) his grandson saying, 'Grandpa forgot my name.'

"Those kinds of things, when you hear that, I have to stay away from it. But I know someday it's going to happen."

But Catterson's positive attitude and healthy lifestyle have helped him so far in the process.

He goes for daily walks and tries to skate at Jim Lind Arena at least a few times every week.

His passion for music—mostly rock and roll, as well as rhythm and blues—also helps him get through each day.

"I don't dwell on what's going on in my brain. If it gets ugly, life is right now, in the moment.

"I've been able to do that so far."

Catterson is this year's Investors Group Kelowna Walk for Memories honouree.

The walk is held in 23 communities around the province during January—Alzheimer Awareness Month—to raise funds for people in the community who are living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

According to a release put out by the Alzheimer Society of B.C., currently more than 70,000 British Columbians are living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. That number is expected to double within the next 25 years.

This year, during Alzheimer Awareness Month, the society is launching a new campaign: Early diagnosis keeps your life from unravelling. The goal is to promote the benefits of early diagnosis.

The local Walk for Memories takes place at Kelowna Secondary School Jan. 26; registration starts at 10 a.m. and the walk begins at 11 a.m.

Twitter: @PatersonWade


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