Peter Durlacher is an active senior. During a typical summer week, he canoes Mondays, bikes Tuesdays, hikes Wednesdays, kayaks Thursdays and swims Fridays. Peter has Alzheimer’s disease. His weekly activity regime through Whistler Adaptive Sports Program (WASP) has been a godsend for Peter and his wife and caregiver, Erika. WASP is a non-profit society providing sports and recreational activities for people with a physical or mental disability. In a couple of months Peter and his friends at Whistler Adaptive Sports will turn their attention to skiing and snowshoeing. Erika says, “Whistler Adaptive Sports has made it possible for Peter to stay in the community, and out and about with other people. He’s under the supervision of compassionate people that can guide and care for him. There are others that have cognitive impairment but most of them are much younger. Peter is the grandfather!”
Whistler is a paradise for healthy, active seniors. But for Peter and others like him, there are limited supports specific to those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers here in Whistler. A Vancouver Coastal Health nurse monitors Peter every few months and makes recommendations. Erika and Peter have participated in government-sponsored Alzheimer support programs through North Shore Community Resources, but travel is an issue and there are long waiting lists. VCH funded short-term respite care is available, but Erika says she’s not ready for that yet. For a short period, there was a support group in Whistler, but in the end there wasn’t the critical mass of participants to make the venture viable over the long haul. Erika feels most people with dementia end up moving down to Vancouver or other larger centres where they can access adequate programs and facilities.
Despite limited community resources, Erika and Peter are committed to staying in Whistler for as long as possible. Erika has managed to provide help for Peter through a variety of sources including WASP. Twice a week, Peter works in the pool with Wilma Weidner of Quattro Aquatic Fitness. He goes to physio on a regular basis to maintain his mobility—so vital to his sense of wellbeing.
“It’s a journey,” Erika says. “If they stay physically fit, they live longer.”
Though Peter’s capacity for social interaction is diminishing, Erika works hard to maintain the relationships that have been so important to them over the years. A son and his family live in Whistler, so Peter can enjoy visits from their grandchildren, and Erika has family to turn to in the dark times. Later in the fall, Peter and Erika will go on a cruise with friends.
It’s a struggle as Peter becomes more dependent on Erika.
“He always needs to be entertained—it’s exhausting. It’s like you’re being robbed. But you can’t fight it. You have to learn to adapt to it.” As much as they’ve lost, Erika is still the light of Peter’s life—you can see it in his eyes as he watches her do up the snaps on his biking gloves.
This Saturday, Peter, Erika and their team will participate in the 2013 Mt. Kilimanjaro Grouse Grind in support of the work of the Alzheimer’s Society of BC.
“Our goal is to accomplish a combined total of seven Grouse Grinds in one day,” Erika says. “It’s a feat equal to that of the Ascent for Alzheimer’s team on Mt. Kilimanjaro, 14,563 kilometres away.” For more about the event, or to donate, go to www.hikemkgg.com