Cowell family helps ‘make memories matter’ at Walk for Alzheimer’s in Surrey

Annual event set for Sunday, May 7 at Eaglequest Golf Course

Gary Cowell with his daughter, Kate Turnbull. (submitted photo)

Gary Cowell with his daughter, Kate Turnbull. (submitted photo)

SURREY — Gary Cowell and his family have a long history of supporting the work of Alzheimer Society of B.C., which is why the organization will honour them during its annual walk in Surrey this weekend.

Cowell’s wife Kathe, 72, was diagnosed with the form of dementia at age 55 – nearly 17 years ago – and now lives at a care facility in Delta.

Over the years, Gary and his adult children have volunteered their time, in various ways, for the society, which aims to assist the estimated 70,000 British Columbians who live with dementia.

“At this point, my daughter Kate (who lives in North Delta) works for the Alzheimer society and has for nine years,” Gary said. “My sons are very involved in our family (auto) business and have been very supportive of me and interacting with the Alzheimer Society, the cause and, of course, looking after my wife.”

The Cowell family will be recognized during the Walk for Alzheimer’s, which aims to “make memories matter” in a fundraising effort on the morning of Sunday, May 7 at Eaglequest Golf Course, at 7758 152nd St., Surrey.

The website for the event, which covers the region of Surrey, North Delta and White Rock, is Walkforalzheimers.ca.

Prior to 2000, Kathe had been showing signs of dementia for several years, Gary said.

“She was at a relatively young age, and I’ve known people in their 40s who’d been diagnosed and passed,” he said.

Seventeen years ago, the society helped Gary when he had a difficult time dealing with his wife’s deteriorating health.

“She was home for six years after she was diagnosed,” Gary recalled, “and what I did while she was at home was look after her and hired help to come in and care for her. (I) focused on trying to make her feel useful and also focused on trying to do things that she liked. We travelled. She liked to travel.”

Kathe loved to dance, too, so Gary plays music for her.

“The reality is, at this stage, we’re not sure how much she’s hearing, whether her hearing is working all that well – you can only guess,” Gary lamented. “But yes, playing music for her, music that she used to love to dance to, will cause her to smile.

“She hasn’t communicated in several years, but any communication would be in the form of something like a smile.”

Today, Gary volunteers his time as a co-facilitator of group caregiver meetings hosted by the society.

“Our support groups have been incredibly helpful to people with peer support who share their strengths,” said Avalon Tournier, the support and education co-ordinator at the society’s White Rock office.

“We appreciate the work Gary has done for us as a volunteer. We certainly recommend that our caregivers, if possible, attend our Caregiver Series, usually a four-part series, two hours at a time. That provides information about what to expect, how to communicate effectively with behaviors and coping skills, and some of the reactive behaviours people may see.”

tom.zillich@ surreynowleader.com