Living life to the fullest with Alzheimer’s – an Okanagan couple’s story

Stella Adams and Willi Brombach are making their way through the uncharted waters of Alzheimer's

Life after Alzheimer’s?

Willi Brombach and wife, Stella Adams, are living proof that while there are bad days, there is also incredible joy in their world.

Stella Adams and husband Willi Brombach during one of their daily walks.

Mark Brett/Western News

For the Penticton couple, that means daily walks around the block, dancing up a storm Sunday nights at the Senior’s Drop In Centre and and just spending time together.

“I wasn’t happy about it (Stella’s diagnosis) naturally but these things happen and we have to deal with it,” Willi said, thinking back to the time three years ago when they first learned she had dementia. “We deal with it on a daily basis and it gets a bit difficult sometimes. I mean quite often she’s depressed because of the whole situation, because of the medication, but I think we basically handle it quite well.

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“The odd time there is the tear shed, that helps to to relieve the tension too, but all in all we do make the best of it.”

The couple is helping bring a spotlight on the disease by sharing their story during Alzheimer’s Awareness month.

Stella Adams at Tuesday’s Minds in Motion program put on the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

Mark Brett/Western News

Willi first noticed little changes in his wife when they began talking about selling the house in Naramata, their home of 25 years. It was a change in Stella’s otherwise sunny disposition, a negativity she too now recalls.

“I knew something was not right, just not right somehow,” she remembered. “I noticed that when I started to cry a lot. Willi said; ‘What’s the matter, what have I done?’ and I said; (in a crying voice) ‘No you haven’t done anything, it’s me,’

“I was always very healthy so I was shattered when this (Alzheimer’s) arrived, but I’m fine, I’m fine.”

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With her medication and the support and therapy she gets through the Penticton office of the Alzheimer Society of BC, Stella is still able to get around on her own most days.

“She gets on the bus here, she knows exactly where she is, she has a good sense of direction,” said Willi, adding with a smile: “Just in case, she’s got a pouch with her name and phone number and 20 bucks in it and a key so she can call a cab, and she hasn’t gotten lost yet.”

It’s that sense of humour they both believe that helps them cope each day.

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For example, when Willi was asked how long they have been together he replied: “I think about 40 years. We’d been engaged for 29 years and then our kids told us ‘You’ve been living in sin long enough dad, it’s time to make a decent woman out her.'”

In the background Stella recalls them meeting in 1977 and getting married 20 years later, Willi adding: “Which I had forgotten a long time ago, I wonder whose got Alzheimer’s here I guess after all, I’m 87 and a half and my wife is 80 so even our minds together don’t make one good brain.”

Neither knew much about the disease at the outset of their journey with Alzheimer’s and it’s been a steep learning curve, but they are managing with the help of the society.

That includes programs like the one Tuesday at the Penticton Recreation Centre put called Mind in Motion, which involves physical and mental activities for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

The couple also remains socially active and spent Christmas with relatives and rang in the New Year with neighbours.

“We even made it to past midnight, to everybody’s surprise,” said Willi. “But I’m a bit of a night owl, Stella usually goes to bed at reasonable hour and gets up at a reasonable hour but I usually don’t surface until nine in the morning.”

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For Stella, her husband is the foundation of her life, the person she depends on, the one who gives her the strength each day to go on.

“I couldn’t find anyone better in a million years, he does everything I ask,” she said. “I mean I’ve cried enough tears.”

Stella Adams during the physical portion of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. Minds in Motion session at the Penticton Parks and Recreation Centre.

Mark Brett/Western News

About sharing their story, Willi simply said: “I guess if there is a message, there is definitely life after Alzheimer’s.”

One of the most important messages Mary Beth Rutherford wants to get out is that a dementia diagnosis is not a death sentence.

“It’s not that people (newly diagnosed) jump to the last stages of the disease, they just don’t realize there is some much life left,” said Rutherford, support and education co-ordinator at the Penticton office of the Alzheimer Society of BC. “Most people have a lot of life left and if we can support people in the beginning stages, we can make their life a lot better.”

She added in spite of the publicity about dementia in recent years, there are still indications family members do not try to learn more about it even though it can help someone suffering from the disease.

“There is also denial for sure, partly because society hasn’t been open and accepting,” said Rutherford.

As a means to help people understand dementia better, particularly people who may not know anyone with it, the society is hosting an Dementia Friendly workshop Jan. 24 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Pre-registration is required and can be done by emailing Rutherford at mrutherford@alzheimerbc.org.


 

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