Alzheimer’s, a brain disease which strikes a growing number of older citizens each year, is now cited as being amongst the top 10 leading causes of death in Canada, according to Jean Blake, CEO of Alzheimer Society of B.C.
“Early detection and diagnosis is critical to ensuring proper support, care and treatment of the illness” says Blake. “Latest findings tell us we have more work to do for the public to recognize symptoms of dementia and also to see their doctor right away if they have concerns about memory loss.”
Accessing educational and information resources in order to better understand the symptoms being experienced along with behavioural changes which can be expected of the individual as the disease progresses, is essential. Once diagnosed, those affected directly as well as family members and caregivers can take steps to explore treatment options which can be applied earlier during the progression of the disease. Support networks for both the individual as well as the caregiver (often a spouse or close family member) can then be developed.
The opportunity to plan ahead which allows families to make key financial and care decisions while the person with dementia is still functioning at the highest possible level, is a critical factor.
Results of a nation-wide survey which was recently conducted under the auspices of the Alzheimer Society’s national body, reveal that almost half (44 per cent) of respondents waited as much as a year before consulting a doctor since they believed their symptoms were simply signs associated with old age. Thirty-nine per cent thought their symptoms were episodic and didn’t take them seriously enough, while three quarters of respondents wish they had known of their condition sooner.
Earlier access to treatments that may have minimized symptoms would have cleared the way to better understanding of what was actually happening as the disease progressed. By knowing at an earlier stage, the affected persons may have had more time to prepare for their future, as the disease continued to progress through its various stages.
In a B.C. survey which took into account responses of 400 caregivers of persons with dementia, it was learned that 45 per cent noticed symptoms in their family member or friend between three to more than five years prior to seeking a formal diagnosis. Caretakers who were reticent toward seeking a diagnosis because they thought the symptoms were part of a normal aging pattern didn’t want to talk about it with anyone, including a physician. According to the on-line survey results, fifty-seven per cent of the respondents reported that they didn’t think anything could be done to resolve the situation in any case. Fifty-seven per cent of the survey respondents reported that they didn’t think anything could be done to resolve the situation in any case.
Surveyed caregivers representing 42 per cent of the total were prompted to see a health professional because the symptoms had become obvious to family and friends and were seen to be affecting day-to-day life, while in the case of 58 per cent of responses, it was the family caregiver who initiated making the appointment to see a physician for a diagnosis.
In order to help raise public awareness and encourage individuals who are concerned about memory loss to seek an early diagnosis from their physicians, the Alzheimer Society of BC has launched a website www.letsfaceitbc.ca which provides helpful details of resources and accessible information such as what to look for on the subject of warning signs and symptoms and preparing for a diagnosis. The website also allows access to daily posts and reflections on day-to-day life experiences on the part of a person who is now in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease as well as other topics of related concern.
A registered non-profit organization, the Alzheimer Society serves as a key support for people with dementia and their caregivers. With its landmark report entitled “Rising Tide: the Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society in 2010” the Society issued a wake-up call about the escalating prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and the rising economic and social costs to Canada’s health-care system as well as Canadian families overall.
Early detection is one solution aimed at minimizing this trend, according to certain members of the medical community. The October 2011 survey itself clearly calls for greater promotion of public recognition of the early signs of dementia and the benefits of early detection in order to break down the barriers of fear, ignorance and stigma which are associated with the disease.
The Society is currently working with the College of Family Physicians of Canada in order to build on the increasing level of awareness and physicians’ capacity to diagnose and treat Alzheimer disease through greater collaboration and integration of health and community partnerships. At present, practical information or other support services are offered to in excess of 150 communities located across the country, made possible by the efforts of the provincial and/or national chapters of the Alzheimer Society.