Port Alberni will honour members of the community who have been affected by dementia during the Walk for Alzheimer’s next month.
The annual fundraising event provides an opportunity to remember or honour people who have been touched by dementia, while fundraising to support those living with the disease today.
Each of the 21 events across B.C. is dedicated to an honouree – an individual or group affected by dementia, or who has contributed to the lives of people living with the disease. This year, the Port Alberni Walk will honour all caregivers. This year’s guest speaker is Jory Mitchell, who cared for his wife Robin after her diagnosis.
Jory and Robin both worked in Port Alberni for more than 30 years as teachers, but moved to Vancouver after Robin’s diagnosis for the support of their two daughters.
“I have a love for Port Alberni,” Jory said. “I think more people knew my wife because of her acting and performances.”
Jory explained that Robin began developing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease when she was 49 years old. She first noticed some issues with her cognitive impairment—for example, she began to confuse all the different white ingredients while she was baking.
“My wife was a brilliant woman,” Jory said. “To have something like this happen was such a concern for her.”
She wasn’t diagnosed with Alzheimer’s until she was 54, five years and three neurologists later. Jory described the diagnosis as “devastating.” Robin lived for another 10 years, with Jory acting as her caregiver, until she passed away in the spring of 2018.
The disease, Jory explained, was slow in its progression.
“It hit you out of nowhere,” he said. “It always took me by surprise. There were many times when I was caught so off guard. I had to get over the shock, come up with a plan and execute it. I was often blindsided—scrambling to try and put things together. Going down the stairs was almost traumatic.”
Four of Robin’s five senses became “hugely compromised.” She would frequently knock things over, she lost her ability to see and hear, she couldn’t smell and she couldn’t filter out surrounding noises, which made going out in public difficult.
“But she knew me until the very end,” he said. “She knew our daughters ‘til the very end. She understood everything that was happening.”
The Mitchells were married for 38 years before Robin passed away. “We had an excellent, wonderful marriage,” said Jory. “It just didn’t look like anyone else’s.”
He cited faith, family and friends as the three supports that got him through the challenges. But the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. was also a huge support. Jory and his wife took part in the Walk for Memories almost every year in Vancouver, and were named the guests of honour during the 2012 walk.
“[The Alzheimer’s Society] supported me in ways I never thought possible,” said Jory. “They were there for me. When they gave me this opportunity, I had to jump on it.”
This will be Jory’s first year volunteering with the Walk for Alzheimer’s in Port Alberni. The fundraiser in support of the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. takes place at Blair Park on Sunday, May 5. Registration opens at 9:30 a.m. and the walk starts at 10:30 a.m.
Funds raised will help support and education in the Alberni Valley and facilitate research into the causes of and the cure for the disease. Pre-register online and start fundraising at walkforalzheimers.ca.