Since Walter Strauss was diagnosed with dementia in 2018, him and his daughter Helga have connected over a shared love of music. (Provided by the Alzheimer Society)

Since Walter Strauss was diagnosed with dementia in 2018, him and his daughter Helga have connected over a shared love of music. (Provided by the Alzheimer Society)

Victoria family focuses on ‘letting go, enjoying time together’ after dad gets dementia

Walter Strauss has developed an interest in music and now takes line dancing classes

When Walter Strauss, a certified accountant — who with his wife, had spent years creating a magazine with over a million subscribers — started to have trouble with numbers his family knew something was wrong.

“Nobody wanted to believe it, but something wasn’t right,” says Strauss’s daughter, Helga. The family ended up moving back to Canada from the Bahamas to be closer to family. It wasn’t until a year later, in 2018, when Strauss received a formal diagnosis after a long process of tests.

That’s how dementia starts to present itself in people says Tara Speirs with the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

“All of us from time to time forget things,” she says, adding it’s more significant forgetfulness that can be indicative of the disease. “[For example] the person who always starts their day by making coffee and wakes up one morning [not knowing] how to work the coffee maker.”

READ ALSO: Video guide on dealing with dementia snags Island Health two awards

Speirs facilitates a fitness and social program for people living with early-stage dementia and their care partners called Minds in Motion, where she met Strauss.

“When I approached Walter about being a spokesperson for the campaign, he thought about it and the first thing he said to me was ‘Can I tell people I don’t want them to tell me to fight it? I just want to be me’,” says Speirs.

It’s one of the biggest messages the Strauss and Speirs want to share with the public during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month — just because you’ve been diagnosed with the disease, doesn’t mean you can no longer live well.

Since Strauss’s diagnosis, he’s developed an interest in music and even takes line dancing classes in addition to the Minds in Motion class. Helga has learned she can’t correct Strauss when he forgets something and says it’s become about “letting go and enjoying their time together.”’

One in four Canadians surveyed say they would feel ashamed or embarrassed if they had dementia, which is what spurred the need for the Alzheimer Society’s new campaign: I live with dementia, let me help you understand.

Speirs explains there are many kinds of dementia, but says the thing they all have in common is the brain cells and neuropathways in people living with the disease, are dying. The cause of dementia is unknown, with only a small portion of the population diagnosed with the genetic disease Alzheimer’s.

READ ALSO: 6 myths people still believe about dementia

According to the Alzheimer Society, more than half a million people in Canada are living with dementia today, with many more family members who provide care affected as well. Research shows that in the next 12 years, nearly a million Canadians will be living with dementia.

One of the biggest factors leading to the stigmatization of dementia, says Speirs, is how isolating it can be once you’ve been diagnosed. For the first half of the Minds in Motion class, a fitness instructor leads participants in 45 minutes of seated exercise, but the last 45 minutes are focused on connection.

Speirs leads the group in conversation focusing on seasonal topics, most recently the theme was what winter and the holidays were like during the participants’ youth. Another favorite is music bingo with songs from the 1950s.

“I’ve been doing this job for four years, and it’s really difficult to see the disease progressing,” says Spiers. “It’s not a nice disease, and it’s a really cruel reality so we just try to maintain quality of life for as long as possible because there is no cure.”

Minds in Motion is run out of six recreation centers across Greater Victoria, for more information on the program visit bit.ly/2FX5QgZ.

The Alzheimer Society also offers many other support services for those living with dementia and their care partners, such as an outreach call system, a first link dementia helpline — which offers services in Cantonese, Punjabi and Mandarin — along with support groups. For more information on the Society visit alzheimer.ca/en/bc .



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A memorial to Hudson Brooks outside the South Surrey RCMP detachment. (File photo)
Officer who fatally shot Hudson Brooks recounts ‘absolutely terrifying’ incident

Const. Elizabeth Cucheran testified at coroner’s inquest Tuesday morning

File photo
Surrey council members give themselves a raise in secret meeting

A redacted report was subsequently posted to the city’s website

Jennifer Brooks with a stone tablet that adorns the memorial to her son Hudson, outside the South Surrey RCMP detachment parkade where he was fatally shot by police in July 2015. (File photo)
Coroner’s inquest underway to examine Hudson Brooks’ 2015 police-shooting death

Witness recalls ‘feeling scared’ for South Surrey man in moments before RCMP fired fatal shots

Crews work to build Central Surrey Recycling and Waste Centre in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
PHOTOS/VIDEO: Surrey’s new recycling/waste dropoff site takes shape near Newton business park

‘Central Surrey’ location to make for ‘a convenient one-stop-drop’ by early 2022

A semi-truck hauling lumber through Tilbury did not have its load adequately secured, which Delta police believe resulted in the cargo almost falling off the trailer. (Delta Police Department photo)
Delta police find issues with nearly half of trucks inspected in January

Load safety, brakes, driver records the focus of DPD’s dedicated Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

Vancouver and Victoria both have a MySafe machine to help reduce overdoses

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

Abbotsford Regional Hospital (Black Press file photo)
Nurse assaulted at Abbotsford hospital in same ward as 2019 dumbbell attack

‘Completely unacceptable that nurses continue to be assaulted,’ says union president

Most Read