Susan Schmalz has witnessed how dementia can impact a family.
Schmalz father, Keith Hannett, has lived an intriguing life. He was born in Duncan, B.C. and went on to earn a Bachelor of Commerce degree, specializing in Transportation Economics.
After university, Keith got a job with Statistics Canada and spent 35 years in Ottawa, working as a statistician.
At the age of 59 he decided to change things up and became a dance host on cruise ships. This job allowed Keith to see the world.
Eventually he was tired of sailing the seas, so he bought a house and settled down.
About five years ago, Schmalz began to notice subtle differences in her father’s behaviour.
“We started noticing that he was having trouble getting the right words out and (he was) calling things by the wrong name. My brother and I started questioning it, thinking something was up,” said Schmalz.
Schmalz convinced Keith to go to a doctor. This began a lengthy two-year process, in and out of doctors’ offices, that eventually confirmed that Keith had dementia.
Keith’s intelligence helped him to function reasonably well initially, according to Schmalz.
“Being very smart, he was able to come up with a lot of ways around things. He had sticky notes everywhere to remind him of things. When he went to get groceries, he always parked in the same spot so he could find his (vehicle) afterwards.”
Keith is now 72-years-old. The past five years have been tough for his family and they have seen his condition worsen. Schmalz has helped her father move into three different assisted living situations. Some of those situations worked for a while; however, as Keith’s condition worsened, they had to change his living quarters.
This week, Keith moved into Cottonwoods Care Centre. Schmalz is optimistic that this location will be a fit for her father’s needs.
“There are different types of dementia; everybody’s journey through it is different. He doesn’t decline gradually, he suddenly has steps down where he loses a lot of ability,” said Schmalz.
Keith has been a leader and advocate for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. He’s always been open and willing talk to about his dementia journey.
“Two years ago he raised a lot of money. He went to several seniors homes and spoke about Alzheimer’s; on his own he raised over $1,000 that year.”
The Investors Group Walk for Memories 2012 has chosen Keith as their Kelowna honoree this year. Schmalz said that her family was “really honoured” that Keith was selected.
She said that the walk is an important event because dementia is a disease that, to some degree, impacts most people.
“I’m sure almost everybody knows someone touched by dementia. It’s a horrible disease to have to live with for the caregivers and for the people who get it.
“We need to get the awareness out there so that people are diagnosed earlier and get on medications earlier. It would be wonderful to find a cure.”
On Sunday, Jan. 29, Kelowna residents are invited to take part in the walk or run at Pinnacle Elite Athlete (in the Capital News Centre). Registration is at 8:30 a.m. Both the run and walk begin at 10 a.m.
Last year, British Columbians contributed more than $630,000 for B.C. families living with dementia as part of the Walk for Memories.
For more information on the Walk for Memories or to register for this Sunday’s event, visit www.walkformemories.com or call 250-860-0305.