01/23/2015 03:56 EST | Updated 03/25/2015 05:59 EDT

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

Best-selling author Louise Penny didn't imagine her life at this point would centre around the care of her husband. 

Dr. Micheal 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. 

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 give 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.