January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Did you know that more than 46,000 Albertans are currently living with dementia—almost 1% of the total population? Over the next 10 years, that number is expected to double. There is currently no known cause or cure for Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, but there is hope for creating a better tomorrow.
The Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories is working to change the face of dementia and improve the quality of life for those with the disease. Through six regional offices across the province, and one in the Northwest Territories, the Society offers a network of educational and support services for people diagnosed with dementia and their care partners; builds partnerships with health professionals and the community; and advances research into effective treatments and finding a cure for this life-altering disease. If you are living with dementia or are caring for someone who is, the Alzheimer Society can help.
What is Dementia?
The term ‘dementia’ does not refer to one specific
disease. Rather, it is an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. These symptoms may include memory loss, difficulty with problem-solving, and changes in mood and behavior. Dementia is identified when these symptoms are severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily life and activities.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 per cent of all diagnoses. Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that destroys brain cells, causing thinking ability and memory to deteriorate over time. It is an irreversible, progressive, and fatal disease.
Connecting with the Alzheimer Society
There are many ways people come to connect with their local Alzheimer Society office. After receiving a diagnosis from your healthcare provider, they may refer you to the First Link® program – an early intervention program that connects people living with dementia and their care partners to the Society for services and support.
If you are worried that you or your loved one may have dementia, you can also reach out directly to the Alzheimer Society for guidance as to potential next steps. They can offer assistance with things like testing and how to talk to your doctor about your concerns.
A diagnosis of dementia does not mean your life is over. While there is currently no way to stop the progression of dementia, there are still many things you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle and slow the progression of the disease.
How the Alzheimer Society Can Help
The Alzheimer Society links individuals and families affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias to a community of learning, information, and support. They accompany you on your dementia journey to make sure you are supported along every step. In addition to the First Link® program, here is a brief overview of some of their
other programs and services:
• Seeds of Hope Family Learning Series
Understanding dementia and its progression is vital to ensure that both you and the person with dementia continue to live as well as possible. The Seeds of Hope Family Learning Series, currently being offered online at www.asantcafe.ca, is an educational series that helps define the phases of dementia in terms of the caregiving journey you face as the person with dementia progresses through the disease. It helps to answer common questions like:
How do I communicate with them effectively?
What are my care options, and how am I going to afford this?
What do I do when they don’t want to take a shower anymore?
What legal issues might arise?
• Support Groups
Having a diagnosis of dementia, or supporting a person
with this diagnosis, can be incredibly demanding. People describe a range of emotions including guilt, confusion, resentment, helplessness, grief, and sadness. The Alzheimer Society offers several support groups that give people a chance to share their feelings and experiences, exchange practical coping strategies, and participate in discussions about the disease and its progression.
• ASANT Café
ASANT Café (www.asantcafe.ca) is an online community and education forum designed to help people connect, share, discuss, and learn about dementia. You will find plenty of videos, articles, and webinars on topics of interest to those affected by dementia.
Gaylene Smith came to the Alzheimer Society angry, frustrated, and alone. Her husband, Bill, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the spring of 2014. Here is her story:
“It was very noticeable when he started to go downhill. Being the sole caregiver was extremely tiring. I would often break down and cry, and when Bill saw this he would cry, too.
It was shortly after that I joined a support group through the Alzheimer Society. Attending a support group changed my life. I found it so helpful to talk to people who were going through a similar experience, and I made many lifelong friends.
As Bill’s disease progressed, he became incontinent and it would often fall to me to clean up after him every morning. I started becoming very angry with him, and along with that anger came an overwhelming sense of guilt.
I knew I couldn’t care for him at home any longer, and so I turned to the Alzheimer Society for help. I was given information on all the different care options and was able to find a long-term care home for Bill to move into. Bill passed away in July of this year. Thanks to the Alzheimer Society, I know I gave Bill the best life possible and that means the world to me.” – Gaylene Smith, Alzheimer Society client.
Covid-19 and Dementia
People with dementia are among the most vulnerable in our communities right now, and are at a greater risk of more serious outcomes from Covid-19. Although some services and supports that people count on have been interrupted or discontinued during the pandemic, we have successfully transitioned many of our face-to-face services to web-based programming. We hope this virtual environment will allow us to create even more connections across all parts of Alberta and help overcome the social isolation that is so prevalent in our lives.
Get Help Today
All the services provided through the Alzheimer Society are offered free of charge, thanks to the generosity of thousands of donors each year. Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on fundraising efforts, and with over 78 per cent of our revenue coming from donations, community support is needed now more than ever.
To learn more or connect with the Society, visit www.alzheimer.ab.ca or call 1-866-950-5465.
10 Warning Signs
Memory loss that affects day-to-day abilities It is normal to occasionally forget appointments, colleagues’ names or a friend’s phone number, only to remember them a short while later. However, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may forget things more often or may have difficulty recalling information that has recently been learned.
Difficulty performing familiar tasks Busy people can be so distracted from time to time that they may forget to serve part of a meal, only to remember about it later. However, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may have trouble completing tasks that have been familiar to them all their lives, such as preparing a meal or playing a game.
Problems with language Anyone can have trouble finding the right word to express what they want to say. However, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may forget simple words or may substitute words such that what they are saying is difficult to understand.
Disorientation in time and space It is common to forget the day of the week or one’s destination—for a moment. But people with Alzheimer’s disease can become lost on their own street, not knowing how they got there or how to get home.
Impaired judgment From time to time, people may make questionable decisions such as putting off seeing a doctor when they are not feeling well. However, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may experience changes in judgment or decision-making, such as not recognizing a medical problem that needs attention or wearing heavy clothing on a hot day.
Problems with abstract thinking From time to time, people may have difficulty with tasks that require abstract thinking, such as balancing a chequebook. However, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may have significant difficulties with such tasks because of a loss of understanding what numbers are and how they are used.
Misplacing things Anyone can temporarily misplace a wallet or keys. However, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in inappropriate places: for example, an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.
Changes in mood and behaviour Anyone can feel sad or moody from time to time. However, someone with Alzheimer’s disease can show varied mood swings—from calmness to tears to anger—for no apparent reason.
Changes in personality Personalities can change in subtle ways over time. However, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may experience more striking personality changes and can become confused, suspicious, or withdrawn. Changes may also include lack of interest, fearfulness or acting out of character.
Loss of initiative It is normal to tire of housework, business activities, or social obligations, but most people regain their initiative. However, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may become passive and disinterested, and require cues and prompting to become involved.