Incoming support and education co-ordinator of the Penticton office of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. Mary Beth Rutherford (seated) who is taking over from Laurie Myres (right) Friday. With them is society volunteer Peter Wynn. Mark Brett/Western News

Changing of the guard at Penticton Alzheimer Society office

New support and education co-ordinator taking over

Like so many people, Laurie Myres first learned about the cruelty of dementia the hard way.

It was when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, also known as the long goodbye. But it was also at that time she learned about the Alzheimer Society of B.C. where she eventually made a career out of helping those with dementia and their families.

After nearly two decades, the support and education co-ordinator of the Penticton office is leaving the work that has come to mean so much to her.

“I came through the doors in March 1997, so it’s been 20 years since I came to accept information and help,” said Myres, who plans to check off some bucket list items, which includes travel with family and celebrating her 60th birthday Sept. 21, which ironically is International Alzheimer’s Awareness Day.

She described her work as a bit of an “emotional teeter-totter” at times.

“There’s not many jobs like this where you get to see the fruits of your labour and it’s very rewarding to see your positive impact on people, but it also has its sad side because you are witnessing grief and loss with people,” said Myres. “But, in spite of the cloud of dementia over people, it’s those moments when you see people make a connection or meet other people, those are the moments that puts gas in your tank to keep you moving and keep you coming back.”

Peter Wynn is someone who knows that first-hand since coming to the Penticton office four years ago with early-stage dementia.

“I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have the Alzheimer Society and the services they provide and the group meetings we have,” said Wynn who also does volunteer work at the office and helps other community organizations. “It keeps my mind going and it’s doing something constructive.

“I’ve learned a lot from Laurie about how she deals with people, especially people left behind because they don’t know what’s going on with their wife or husband.”

Taking over from Myres is Mary Beth Rutherford, who has an extensive background in working with seniors and those with dementia in the Okanagan for the past 25 years.

“I’ve got big shoes to fill, that’s for sure,” said Rutherford, who has worked with the society since October as the Minds in Motion program co-ordinator. “I’ve spent a lot of time with people with dementia and learned really fast about how to make their lives a little bit better.”

In taking over the position she plans to continue working towards educating the general public in gaining greater acceptance and understanding of those with dementia.

“I think there is a movement towards supporting people living in their community participating a normal life as much and as long as they can,” said Rutherford. “As Laurie was saying there is that overwhelming number of people but I think you provide an opportunity for people to have — the slogan for the society is having hope — and we provide hope.”