Louise Penny speaks out about life after her husband's dementia diagnosis

The bestselling author and former CBC Radio Noon host explains the highs and lows of "the long goodbye" and coming to terms with a dementia diagnosis.

Quebec author chosen as spokeswoman for Alzheimer's Awareness Month

Debra Arbec sits down with best-selling author Louise Penny to talk about why she's lending her voice to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease. 6:33

Bestselling author Louise Penny didn't imagine her life at this point would centre on the care of her husband. 

Dr. Michael Whitehead enjoyed a long career as a doctor, serving for years as the director of hematology at the Montreal Children's Hospital. 

But a few years ago, she noticed small changes. He started having trouble with numbers, something he had always excelled at. He didn't immediately notice the changes, and an initial test for dementia came up in the "normal" range.

But Whitehead had always been above average cognitively, so the depth of the decline was masked. 

Today, they both know dementia was to blame for some of those early symptoms that they had initially written off. Whitehead was recently diagnosed. 

The long goodbye

But despite the challenges and the heartbreak, Penny still finds reasons to be optimistic. Her career allows her to be at home and care for him. She's younger than he is, healthy and able to meet his increasing needs.  

"The big issue for me is making sure that he is safe and that he's happy and he's healthy. That is all that I care about. That is the priority, that is my job," Penny said. 

"I also realize that I'm lucky because I would hate to lose him to a sudden heart attack or a sudden stroke — that this gives us time to say goodbye to come to terms, to share a life together."

Penny is now serving as a spokeswoman for the Federation of Quebec Alzheimer Societies, which is marking Alzheimer's Awareness Month with the stories of women affected by the disease or caring for loved ones who are. 

CBC News Montreal anchor Debra Arbec sat down with Penny at her home in Sutton, Que., for a one-on-one interview about the signs and symptoms of the disease and her life after her husband's diagnosis. 

Louise Penny and her husband, Dr. Michael Whitehead, discussed speaking about his diagnosis publicly not long after they learned he had dementia. (CBC)