Allan and Bettina Collier have shared a lifetime together since they met in high school.
In a marriage that has lasted 63 years, the Colliers raised two daughters and have welcomed grandchildren and great-grandchildren into their lives.
Bettina had previously beaten cancer twice through aggressive chemotherapy.
But their life together took an unexpected turn nine years ago when Bettina’s short-term memory loss symptoms were diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease.
At the time, the Colliers were referred by their doctor to the Alzheimer Society of B.C. office in Kelowna, which has become a source of both information and support to help Allan and Bettina make adjustments in their lives brought on by the disease.
Today, the love they share together has grown stronger, and their focus is living an active lifestyle while adjusting to the realities of Alzheimer’s.
“I used to golf two or three times a week but I stopped because that is about a six-hour turnaround in time, and that’s a bit too long for Bettina to be alone during a day,” Allan said.
“So now I do other things like shoot pool and play bridge. Those activities don’t take as long.”
For Bettina, her husband has become her caregiver, helping her overcome her limitations.
She loves to bake but needs Allan present now to make sure she doesn’t forget any steps in the process. She can’t drive a vehicle anymore. She can go for short walks on her own near her house but avoids striking out beyond that, like venturing downtown on her own.
She spends time everyday working on word search and word hunt books to exercise her mind, and they both attend the Minds In Motion fitness and social program organized by the Alzheimer’s Society every Monday.
“It helps to have the support and Allan is a wonderful, wonderful husband. I wouldn’t change him for the world,” Bettina said.
“From day to day I don’t really feel a difference because of Alzheimer’s. I try not to think about it because if I do, it makes me upset and not to happy.”
Allan summarizes their life today this way: “We’re continuing a journey together and we keep looking at the bright side of life. That’s all we can do. We’ve never really had a bad moment.”
He was invited to speak about his role as an Alzheimer’s caregiver at the kick-off launch event on Monday for the annual Kelowna Investors Group Walk for Alzheimer’s fundraiser on Sunday, May 6, at City Park. The Colliers are walk honourees for this year’s event.
The walk and other fundraisers remain critical to financially support Alzheimer’s Society programs, which Allan says are an important resource for caregivers.
“The society has been very helpful with our situation. They help both the caregiver and the person who has Alzheimer’s,” Allan said.
“It’s really hard to deal with this all on your own.”
Mary Mandarino, a West Kelowna resident and chair of the upcoming Alzheimer’s Walk, says husbands becoming caregivers for their wives stricken with dementia is becoming more common.
“It’s a reversal of the traditional role model where the wife and mother is typically in the caregiver role,” Mandarino said.
“Now all of a sudden men find themselves increasingly in that caregiver position. That’s been a bit of an education for me to learn that. I never thought about it until I started to meet men caregivers serving that role.”
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