Sandy Campbell spent years denying anything was wrong with her husband.
She and Les Campbell had married in 1999 and were deeply in love. Any quirks she noticed in his behaviour she attributed to normal aging. He was, after all, 17 years older than her.
Les, now 79, worked as a church pastor in Kelowna and all over Canada before he retired. He went from speaking comfortably in front of big audiences to struggling to be appropriate in social settings.
He talked about the same thing again and again. He looked for opportunities to insert the same story in conversations, even when it didn't fit. His actions became more unusual.
Sandy shrugged it off. She refused to believe his condition was progressive and had a label. Then a relative approached her. Les had offered his condolences after watching a video of a funeral. Les attended the funeral weeks earlier, but had apparently forgotten.
"She told me she felt I should know. I started opening my eyes and becoming more aware," Sandy said.
Armed with a list of odd things she'd noticed, Sandy went to the doctor in 2007. Les was likely in the early stages of dementia, the doctor said. He referred them to mental-health services in Kelowna.
Staff conducted tests and confirmed the diagnosis. They assigned a case worker, who encouraged the couple to inform Les's three adult children. Les started sharing his secret with people he knew.
"It was a wonderful thing," Sandy said. "It let everyone around us know. We didn't have to fake things. People understood if he was inappropriate. If they don't know, they can't support you. And we've been supported by many
Some plan to support the family at this Sunday's annual fundraising walk for dementia patients and their caregivers. The one-hour Walk for Memories, sponsored by Investors Group, takes place at the CNC on Gordon Drive starting at 10 a.m.
Soon after the diagnosis, Sandy filled out a questionnaire about changes she'd noticed in Les's personality and his grooming habits. It helped her realize the symptoms had been apparent for some time.
He was living a double life. He was so good in social settings, most people had trouble seeing anything wrong with him. At home, he was a different person.
He fell into depression and anger, much of it focussed on his wife. Sandy had to withdraw emotionally and protect herself.
"It's easy to tell yourself it's the disease and not the person, but it is emotionally devastating when you're the target of anger for such a long time," Sandy said.
"It undermined our relationship. It changed everything."
Les's daughter told Sandy his behaviour didn't mean he'd stopped loving her. She considered the advice a great gift - she could love him in a different way. It became a parent-child relationship, she said.
Authorities took away Les's driver's licence. Sandy had to quit her retail job to care for him. Medication calmed his anger, but his depression lingered.
Today, he can still feed, toilet and dress himself if she lays his clothes out for him. But he's extremely quiet. All he wants is to sleep and eat, Sandy said.
In 2011, he began attending an adult-day program three times a week at Hawthorne Park.
It changed Sandy 's life.
"I was in a free-fall trying to cope . . . with the stress," she said. "I got stronger again as a caregiver and got my feet under me again."
Sandy attends regular meetings hosted by the Alzheimer's Society of B.C. in Kelowna. She sits with other caregivers going through similar changes at home. She doesn't have to explain things because they understand at a deep level.
"(It's) greatly improved my ability to care for my husband," she said. "I've learned coping mechanisms - things that worked for them. We can relate to each other's struggles and support one another."
Sandy encourages caregivers to admit they need help when the burden becomes too great. She encourages them to work with their doctor, contact the society, go to a meeting and get connected with mental-health workers.
"People attach shame and embarrassment to it. If we're open and honest, we'll get the support we need and understanding from people around us. We will embrace it instead of fighting it."
For more information on the society, call 250-860-0305.