Karen and Don Corbett in their Chilliwack home on Jan. 10, 2020. (Jennifer Feinberg/The Chilliwack Progress)

VIDEO: Breaking the silence from Chilliwack on living with dementia

Don and Karen Corbett tell their story to break the stigma during Alzheimer Awareness Month

The Corbetts of Chilliwack are breaking the silence and hopefully reducing the stigma.

Don Corbett, and his wife of 50 years, Karen Corbett, are talking about what it’s like living with dementia, as part of Alzheimer Awareness Month.

Don knew long before it was official, that something was off.

“Waking up” with his vehicle in the ditch a couple of years before diagnosis was a bit of rude awakening, Don says.

“I didn’t tell Karen at the time. I was scared because I woke up with the Hope Slough beside me. I didn’t go in it but I could have,” Don recalled.

He just backed the car out, and kept driving for his job at Lifeline.

The Corbetts recently reached out to the Alzheimer Society of B.C. at the recommendation of their daughter, Kelly Corbett, an artist living on Vancouver Island.

Their story is now part of the ‘I live with dementia’ campaign, which includes inspiring stories from families across B.C.

Don, 77, and Karen, 73, signed up for Minds in Motion, a social and fitness program for people in the early stages of the disease. It’s geared for pairs, and the care partner attends as well for the low impact fitness portion, followed by socializing.

“Everyone we’ve met is in a different place,” Don says. “It helps us understand how things are going to change.”

If you ask Don he’s not 100 per cent sure that what he is experiencing is actually dementia, but together with family, the couple is learning about the disease.

Don is fit, energetic and very talkative, only occasionally struggling for a word.

The diagnosis came last September after Don began to experience memory loss, but the truly life-altering change for him was having to make the decision to stop driving for good.

Living on the family farm in Saskatchewan, he started driving at the age of about eight, working closely his dad, who had polio. And he just kept driving for another six decades.

“Seventy-five per cent of time I was working was spent on the road,” says Don.

He repaired telephones for BC Tel for 30 years all over the Fraser Valley, before taking care of Cultus Lake United Church Camp, and then another 10 years working for Lifeline.

So getting out from behind the wheel is a big deal.

“It’s probably the most dramatic change so far,” Don says.

“It’s very hard for him,” Karen adds. “Don has always loved driving.”

They drove across Canada in their camper, and they enjoy canoeing, kayaking and wilderness camping.

Still they are embracing the well-known benefits of exercise, attending an exercise group at their community clubhouse, as well as the Alzheimer’s group sessions. Don lifts weights and works a mean hula hoop.

“Fortunately we’re still active and can walk,” Karen says.

They also make a point of eating an extra-healthy diet focused on fruits and vegetables, avoiding sugar and simple carbs as much as possible.

The 2020 Alzheimer’s awareness campaign tagline for January says it all: ‘I live with dementia. Let me help you understand’ and that’s precisely what the Corbetts are doing by sharing their story.

Spurred by alarming research indicating that one in four Canadians would feel ashamed or embarrassed if they had dementia, the campaign gives voice to those who are frustrated by the assumptions and misinformation. So they’re pleased to help.

“It would be nice if more people knew what it was and weren’t afraid of it, because it’s just something that happens in life,” Karen says, to which Don immediately adds: “Yes!”

READ MORE: More services needed for early onset

READ MORE: Campaign underway I Live With Dementia

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Karen and Don Corbett in their Chilliwack home on Jan. 10, 2020. (Jennifer Feinberg/The Chilliwack Progress)

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