A middle-aged St. John's couple that is confronting the devastating loss of Alzheimer's is speaking out so that others will be aware of the impact of the disease.
Agatha Penney was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s almost six years ago, when she was 50. She and her husband of 35 years, Paul, spoke with Here & Now to draw attention to how the disease is not at all limited to the elderly.
"It's a disease of the mind and like most diseases of the mind, nobody wants to talk about," said Paul Penney, as his wife sat at his side.
"We felt that it has to be talked about. It's going to become an epidemic in years to come with the aging population. It's going to be happening. We'll have more and more of it. We need to do more to help the caregivers and to help the people with Alzheimer's."
Now in the moderate stages of Alzheimer's, Agatha Penney requires help with many simple tasks.
During an interview with CBC News, she struggled to find words to express her thoughts, though she made herself clear.
"It is what it is, and you can't bring it back," she said, referring to the lifestyle and career that the former nurse once enjoyed.
The Penneys say that many people unfamiliar with Alzheimer's have misconceptions, and not just about the age in which it can strike.
is that all you do is lose your memory. It's more than that," said Paul Penney.
Agatha has gradually lost her ability to do things she enjoyed, from crocheting and gardening to driving and completing a crossword puzzle.
Despite the ravages of the illness, and knowing what is ahead, the couple remain as close as when they fell in love.
"I keep it going because I know she'd do it for me," Paul Penney said. "She wouldn't abandon me."
The Alzheimer Society estimates that more than 7,600 people in Newfoundland and Labrador are living with the disease or another dementia.