Over 700,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. And Alzheimer's in Canada is expected to increase as the population ages. So, what can be done to manage and prevent Alzheimer's?
Canada was the 30th country to launch a national dementia strategy, with their Alzheimer's and dementia act. There are also many other resources to help support you and your loved ones.
One of the main sources of support is the Alzheimer Society of Canada. They have a history of supporting, advocating, and researching for those with dementia. They were established in 1978 and serve all over Canada.
Read on to learn all you need to know about Alzheimer's and the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
What Does Alzheimer's Society Do?
No matter what part of Canada you are in, the Alzheimer Society of Canada can support you. You can share your experiences, attend support groups and events. For example, there are living with dementia programs, carer support groups, and cognitive health classes.
They also do vital work to raise awareness of Alzheimer's disease in Canada. They advocate for health and policy changes too, so Canada continues to address the prevalence of dementia.
The Alzheimer Society of Canada also has a federation of 11 partners to help provide support across Canada. It means the Society can operate in all communities. It is also connected to worldwide partners such as the Alzheimer's Association.
Programs, Services and Contacts
The Alzheimer's Society of Canada focuses not just on the patient and maintaining their health and well being, they have an abundance of resources available for families and caregivers alike. They have experience in early preparation and education, which results in preparedness as the disease progresses.
Some of their resources include:
Safety Services - Finding Your Way is a site which explains that people living with Alzheimer's and other dementia's having the potential to go missing. It prepares communities for the possibility that someone could go missing and educates on how to live safely within that community. Please note that this service is only available in Ontario.
Public Awareness - The Alzheimer's Society of Canada hosts many public sessions about how you can make your community more dementia friendly. These workshops and seminars can be developed to suit your groups specific needs
Individual and Group Support - Although all the services offered are important, support groups hosted by the Alzheimer's Society of Canada are likely at the top of the list. The "you are not alone" term really makes a difference when families and caregivers are able to share stories and experiences with one another.
Art and Music Therapy - People living with Alzheimer's are often comforted by art music, and studies show that both can help to fight the symptoms. The Society offers many art and music programs. To find the one near you, be sure to navigate to this page and set your location.
Contacts - There are many locations for the Alzheimer's Society of Canada. On Alzheimer.ca, you would need to click on 'change your society' to find the one near you.
What Is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that causes memory loss and other cognitive skills to decline. It is the most common cause of dementia, a general term to group symptoms related to declining memory and cognitive skills.
Alzheimer's disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who first recognized the features of Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's disease now has different categories:
Common Alzheimer's Disease
Genetic (familial) Alzheimer's Disease
Genetic Alzheimer's disease is rare. Around 5% of Alzheimer's is familial, which is when two or more people in a family have it. However, genetic Alzheimer's disease is often the cause of early-onset cases.
Alzheimer is a type of dementia and also a cause of dementia that accounts for 60%-80% of dementia cases.
Difficulty in remembering recent events, problems with language, disorientation, mood swings
Over 65 years old
Based on symptoms and cognitive testing after ruling out other possible causes
Signs of early-onset Alzheimer's are similar to signs of common Alzheimer's disease. However, the main difference is the age of onset.
Early-onset Alzheimer's is diagnosed if the person is under 65 years old when they first present with symptoms. Symptoms can begin at any age, although commonly, they begin in a person's 30s, 40s, or 50s. Around 3% of Canadians have early-onset Alzheimer's.
Early Signs of Alzheimer's Disease
The early signs of early-onset Alzheimer's are the same for those over 65 years old with common Alzheimer's. It is good to be aware of early signs, especially if you care for an aging parent or have concerns about a loved one. The sooner you recognize signs of Alzheimer's disease, the sooner you can get support.
One of the early signs of Alzheimer's disease is memory loss. People may have trouble recalling the names of people, objects, and places. They can also have difficulty remembering specific words and any recently acquired information.
An early sign of Alzheimer's is when a person starts misplacing items in unusual places. They may not be able to retrace their footsteps to find the items. Eventually, with Alzheimer's progression, they may think others have stolen the items.
Alzheimer's disease can also impact a person's mood, even during the early stages. They may experience depression and anxiety. Some people also change behaviour, such as not wanting to try new things and socially isolating.
Cognitive skills such as problem-solving and concentrating can become difficult. It is natural to make occasional errors, but repeated errors or difficulties completing tasks are red flags. Their judgement may also decline and make it harder for them to make decisions.
The Four A's of Alzheimer's Disease
The four A's of Alzheimer's disease are common symptoms that happen during different stages of Alzheimer's. Amnesia refers to short and long-term memory loss. Aphasia refers to the impaired communication skills.
Apraxia is when the body's physical ability to function begins to decline, such as bathing, walking, and getting dressed. There is an increased risk of falls once this happens. Agnosia is when someone cannot understand or recognize information, such as smells or having a full bladder.
What Are the Seven Stages of Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer's progression can be grouped into seven categories. Symptoms worsen over time as currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer's. Not everyone will experience symptoms in order, but it is important to know Alzheimer's progression stages to prepare.
Stage One: No Outward Impairment
Alzheimer's begins before there are visible outward symptoms. Changes can happen in the brain years before early symptoms.
The person will continue to exhibit their normal behaviour. A PET scan can detect signs of Alzheimer's disease before there are symptoms.
Stage Two: Very Mild Changes
There can be some signs of Alzheimer's disease at this stage, such as misplacing objects and forgetting words. However, it is common not to notice these small changes. The disease does not impact a person's life, so these signs can be mistaken for ageing.
Stage Three: Mild Decline
Signs of early-onset Alzheimers and common Alzheimer's disease are often detected at this stage. You may notice early symptoms such as struggling to follow conversations, remembering new names, and making plans.
Stage Four: Moderate Decline
Alzheimer's progression becomes more evident during stage four. The individual may develop more early signs. They can also start to develop symptoms such as:
Forgetting details about themselves
Having trouble with daily tasks such as cooking
Not understanding conversations
By this stage, the individual should not drive anymore. Their affairs should be in order, such as their health insurance. Support may include you or someone else helping with daily chores and finances.
Stage Five: Moderately Severe Decline
Alzheimer's progression becomes more severe at stage five. Individuals need help with more daily tasks, such as dressing themselves, and they can experience confusion. However, they usually can still bathe and go to the bathroom independently.
Stage Six: Severe Decline
Stage six is when individuals need constant care, usually by a professional. Symptoms can include:
Loss of bladder and bowel control
Wandering and significant confusion
Help with daily living tasks such as bathing
Behaviour problems and personality changes
A person will start to forget personal history details and their surroundings. Some people find connecting through music helpful at this stage.
Usually, an individual cannot recognize faces unless it is close family members. They need supervision to protect their safety.
Stage Seven: Very Severe Decline
Alzheimer's progression ends at stage seven, which is when an individual loses essential abilities. Abilities include eating, swallowing, walking, and sitting up.
They will need help with all activities and may not have any insight into their condition. Many people go to hospices or have more support during this end-stage to the terminal disease.
After a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, life expectancy can be between eight and ten years. However, some people live for a lot longer or deteriorate a lot faster. There is ongoing research into Alzheimer's life expectancy.
How Can Alzheimer's Be Prevented?
There is no specific way to prevent Alzheimer's, but there are some steps you can take to minimize risks. Prevent Alzheimer's disease with healthy lifestyle choices and an awareness of risk factors. Risk factors can include:
High blood pressure
Lack of exercise
High alcohol consumption
Low cognitive engagement
Being aware of your diet, exercising, and addressing other risk factors can help prevent Alzheimer's. It can also help raise awareness, which increases the chance of early diagnosis. Early diagnosis means a person has a better chance of benefitting from treatment.
There are some factors that you cannot control, such as genetics and age. Family history is the only known risk factor for early-onset Alzheimer's right now.
Support for Alzheimer's Canada
If you or a loved one gets diagnosed with Alzheimer's, know you are not alone. There are many resources, including helplines, support groups, and online resources, such as the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
During diagnosis, you should also receive a list of support resources. It is not easy to suddenly manage other tasks, such as finances and insurance, as a caregiver. However, support groups and resources such as the kind folks at Dementia Home Care can help.
Prepare for Alzheimer's Progression
Alzheimer's progression is difficult and can be distressing for everyone involved. However, there is hope, with charities such as the Alzheimer Society of Canada ensuring dementia care continues to improve. Plus, it means more research can happen to learn how to manage and prevent Alzheimer's disease.
Having an awareness about Alzheimer's disease helps manage some of the practical challenges it can present. One of these challenges is to ensure financial and health affairs are in order.
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