Courtesy Photo: Craig and Shirley Purkey at right, from their wedding day, and at left a more current photo. Shirley Purkey wears the same dress in both photos.
Courtesy Photo: Craig and Shirley Purkey at right, from their wedding day, and at left a more current photo. Shirley Purkey wears the same dress in both photos.

There are an estimated 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and about 108,000 people in Washington state living with this disease, per a recent study. While these numbers are high, making it likely that we all know someone who has been touched by this condition, there is still hope and ways for individuals facing a diagnosis and their families to find the support they need so they can keep living a full life.

Queen Anne couple Craig and Shirley Purkey are an example of how one couple facing Alzheimer’s found ways to manage it, stay positive and live happy.

Craig and Shirley Purkey’s relationship has been defined by their connection to the city of Seattle and their quest to make every day an adventure. They first met as neighbors in Queen Anne in 1968, before traveling to live in Europe for three years while Craig was working with a division of the United Nations.

When the Purkeys returned to Seattle so Craig could work for the University of Washington, their passion for traveling and adventure didn’t stop. In their many years of marriage, they have taken four cruises together, returned to Europe – including Switzerland, where their “Swiss Miss” daughter Laura was born – traveled to California’s wine country and taken several trips to Maui. Together, they’ve raised two children and are proud grandparents of four.

It was in the midst of their travels in recent years that Craig received the difficult diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. This news was a devastating blow to the couple whose long relationship was shaped by travel, companionship and a close connection. The Purkeys persevered, pledging to keep living life to the fullest as they have always done.

Following the diagnosis, Craig and Shirley became involved in multiple support groups, and Craig began taking art therapy classes. After having an in-home caregiver for a period of time, Craig took the next step and joined an Aegis Living community – right in Queen Anne, where the couple first met decades ago. The transition for Craig has gone smoothly. The couple has found comfort in Aegis Living’s community focus and memory care expertise. Craig stays busy with life enrichment activities offered – from painting to fitness classes and outings to local restaurants and museums. The couple has already made connections with fellow residents and the staff that treat them like family.

Today, Craig and Shirley are as happy and undaunted as ever. The couple recently celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary right here at Aegis Living Galer, recreating their original photo with Shirley donning the same dress she wore at their wedding in 1969.

Their secrets to a happy marriage?

-Recognize its a “give and get” balancing act and individual needs change daily. One day your partner may need 60 percent and you only get 40 percent. The next day you, you may need 100 percent and your partner gets zero.

-Be kind, respectful and forgiving of each other.

-Praise each other for accomplishments.

-Give lots of tight hugs.

-Lean on the love and support of family.

-Laugh a lot. Laughter truly is the best medicine.

Their story is a beacon of hope – a couple refusing to give up in the face of bad news, but instead finding the support, care and community needed so they could live out the rest of their adventures together.