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Couple adjusts to dementia

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Judy and Jim Catterson will be supporting this year's Investors Group Walk for Memories, Jan. 26 at Kelowna Secondary School.
Always a reliable fielder, Jim Catterson's teammates were astounded when he caught a fly ball and then stood there motionless.
Catterson knew his memory was playing tricks on him and he'd get confused from time to time. But the reaction he got from his baseball team that day made him realize something was seriously wrong.
"Twenty-eight guys were yelling at me, 'Throw the ball!' The coach ran over and said 'What the hell is wrong with you?' I said I didn't know. He said 'you'd better get it fixed.'"
Catterson's doctor told him he was aging. At a later game, a hitter pounded the ball over his head. His hat fell off as he chased it. Instead of running for the ball and throwing it to third base, Catterson went back for his hat.
He quit playing hockey in his 50-plus league because he couldn't remember how to put on his equipment. He had to stop driving two years ago because he lost confidence. Sometimes he'd be in a familiar area and have to stop and ask himself where he was.
Speak to him face to face and you'd never guess the retired carpet salesman has vascular dementia. He's engaging, on topic and quick with a joke. But the honouree at this year's fundraising walk for the Alzheimer Society of B.C. admits he gets frustrated by his new limitations.
"I get flustered. I'm so used to being efficient; it knocks my pride," he said.
The society estimates more than 70,000 British Columbians are living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. The number is expected to soar in the coming decade as waves of baby boomers turn 65.
There's still no cure, but new medications are slowing the onset. Catterson, now in his late 60s, takes Reminyl. He joined an early-stage support group and his wife Judy attends monthly meetings for caregivers.
"We share stories on what may be a problem, how you handle something. A lot of people need to get things off their chest and share information," she said.
It's estimated dementia costs Canadian taxpayers $33 billion a year in both direct healthcare costs and the lost income of family members who act as caregivers. Even so, Canada has yet to develop a national dementia strategy.
Seniors often attribute mental lapses to normal aging and are afraid to get tested because they don't want to know they have dementia. Doctors can diagnose a disease, but patients get far more support from Alzheimer's Society staff once it's confirmed, Catterson said.
"You get more help from them than doctors."
He's learning to cope. He skates twice a week. And if he wanders in the wrong direction on the ball field, his teammates point him the right way. He knows when he does something unusual it's for medical reasons and not a character flaw.
"I live in the moment. I don't think about the disease. It would kill me if I did that. I try to be positive."
The Investors Group Walk for Memories takes place at Kelowna Secondary School on Jan. 26. Registration starts at 10 a.m. and the walk begins at 11. Coun. Maxine DeHart will MC the event with Mayor Walter Gray.
To donate online, visit walkformemories.com or call Jessi at 250-826-7822.

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