Alzheimer’s Awareness Month
January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. This month aims to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia. Although there is an increasing amount of individuals who are affected by this disease worldwide, the stigmatization and misinformation that surround Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias remains a problem in countries around the world.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
As we grow older, our brain changes, and we may have occasional problems remembering certain details. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias cause memory loss and other symptoms serious enough to interfere with life on day-to-day basis. These symptoms are not a natural part of getting older.
Dementia is used as an overall term used to describe a set of symptoms affecting the brain, such as memory loss, difficulties thinking and problem-solving. There are over 100 forms of dementia. The most well-known form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal disease that eventually affects all aspects of a person’s life: how they think, feel and act.
What are the warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Sometimes, it may be difficult to distinguish “natural parts of getting older” from early signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. For this reason, it’s important to know some of the top warning sings. They include the following: memory loss affecting day-to-day abilities, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation in time and space, impaired judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, changes in mood and behaviour, changes in personality and loss of initiative.
If you are experiencing possible symptoms or have any concerns about someone you are about, please speak to your healthcare provider.
What changes can you expect to see after an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis?
Each person is affected by Alzheimer’s disease differently; therefore, it is difficult to predict symptoms or the order in which they will appear and the rate at which the disease will progress. However, the following are some of the changes you may expect to see as the disease progresses.
The cognitive and functional abilities of the person with Alzheimer’s disease will be affected. This means that their ability to understand, think, remember and communicate will get worse throughout the years. In consequence, the person affected may have difficulties making decisions, performing simple tasks, or follow a conversation. Sometimes people also lose their way and experience confusion or memory loss.
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may also have some changes in their emotions and moods. They may become less expressive, withdrawn and even lose interest in their favorite hobbies. You may also notice a change in the person’s behavior. Their reactions may seem out of character, they may repeat certain words or actions or even have some physical outbursts and become impatient.
Alzheimer’s disease may also affect a person’s physical abilities, including their coordination and mobility, to the point of affecting their ability to perform day-to-day tasks such as eating, bathing and getting dressed.
Early Detection and Diagnosis
In addition to creating awareness and better understanding of the disease, World Alzheimer’s Day also aims to highlight the importance of early detection and diagnosis of dementia.
The Alzheimer Society of Canada shares the main benefits of early diagnosis:
- Early diagnosis allows people with dementia and their families to receive timely practical information, advice and support. Only through receiving a diagnosis can they access available drug and non-drug therapies that may improve their cognition and enhance their quality of life.
- Early therapeutic interventions can be effective in improving cognitive function, treating depression, improving caregiver mood, and delaying institutionalization. Some of these interventions may be more effective when started earlier in the disease course.
- Undetected dementia places older adults at risk for delirium, motor vehicle accidents, medication errors, and financial difficulties to name a few.
- Provides an opportunity for the individual to adjust to the diagnosis and to participate actively in planning for the future which can reduce the heavy societal costs associated with institutionalization.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is life changing for both the person with the disease and their family and friends, but information and supports are available. No one has to face Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia alone.
For more information on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, please visit the Alzheimer Society Canada website at http://www.alzheimer.ca/en. For more information on various local supports, please contact the Thunder Bay Alzheimer’s Society at 807-345-9556.