MAHONE BAY, N.S. -- Karen Brown is a self-taught button accordion player. Music is something the Mahone Bay, N.S. resident uses to stay connected to her husband, who is in the late stage of Alzheimer's disease.

Brown and her husband Wally have travelled the world extensively, but in 2014, they began a whole new journey they never planned to take.

"We knew, he knew, something was changing," Brown said. "He was having difficulty doing ordinary tasks, spelling and certainly decision making."

It was the early signs of Alzheimer's, a degenerative disease marked by memory loss, followed by loss of motor skills, and, finally, death.

"He was never in denial," Brown said. "That first weekend, he called all his siblings and he's from a large family of nine boys and one girl. He called his family and he said 'I've hit a road bump.'"

Alzheimer's is a disease that affects more than half a million Canadians, and with that number constantly growing, research in this field is key. While there is no known cure, there is some reason for optimism.

Dr. Sultan Darvesh, a neurologist, chemist and professor at Dalhousie University, is unlocking the mystery behind the disease. He's confirmed a protein called butyrylcholinesterase, or BChE, is commonly found in patients with Alzheimer's, but there is currently only one way to detect it.

"We need to look at the brain tissue through autopsy and that is too late," Dr. Darvesh explained.

Through the support of the Molly Appeal, a medical research fundraising campaign organized by the university, Dr. Darvesh and his team are pioneering the world's first technology for diagnoses in the early stages of the disease while patients are still living.

"We are developing molecules that can target this particular enzyme or protein that is in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Darvesh said.

Dr. Darvesh added that philanthropy is key is moving research like his forward. While Karen doesn't expect a cure in Wally's lifetime, she's hopeful for future families.

"It's a difficult road," Brown said. "It's a very cruel disease."

Brown now finds solace in the memories, and in music. Every Sunday, due to COVID-19 restrictions, she sits outside Wally's assisted living facility to play the accordion to him through the window, a melody of moments she holds on to, of the person she once knew.

"He's a good man with a beautiful smile," Brown said. "We had a good life together."