January marks Alzheimer Awareness Month in Canada, and the emphasis is on bolstering knowledge about the condition and also on early diagnosis.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, helping to grow public awareness is essential when it comes to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia is a term that generally refers to a variety of brain disorders. Different physical changes to the brain cause different dementias. Some are reversible, meaning that they can be treated and cured, while others are irreversible, meaning there is no cure. Symptoms worsen over time and include: loss of memory, changes in judgment and reasoning, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language and changes in mood and behaviour.
Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible and eventually fatal.
Other dementias include vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia (including Pick’s disease), Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and Lewy body dementia.
As of 2016, an estimated 564,000 Canadians were living with dementia. By 2031, this figure is expected to rise to 937,000, an increase of 66%.
Again, according to statistics, the combined health-care system and out-of-pocket costs of dementia is estimated at $10.4 billion. By 2031, this figure is expected to increase by 60 per cent, to $16.6 billion.
Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. After age 65, the risk doubles every five years. But dementia also occurs in people in their 50s, 40s and even in their 30s. It is progressive, and progression varies greatly from person to person and can last between eight to 10 years – or even longer.
But steps continue to be taken in the battle again these conditions. Last June, the Alzheimer Society of Canada celebrated the passage of Bill C-233, an act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Canada became the latest country to develop a national dementia strategy to address the overwhelming scale, impact and cost of dementia.
“For the more than half a million Canadians living with dementia and their families, this is an important milestone,” says Pauline Tardif, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada. “A national strategy enables a coordinated approach to tackling dementia in Canada that will impact the lives of those affected in tangible ways.”
The Alzheimer Society has long called for a national dementia strategy to enhance research efforts and ensure access to quality care and support so that Canadians with dementia can have the best quality of life. Now that Canada has committed to such a strategy, work has begun on implementation.
Meanwhile, earlier diagnosis opens the door to important information, resources and support through local Alzheimer Societies and helps people with dementia focus on their abilities to remain independent in their homes and communities longer.
Health officials say that with early diagnosis, people can access medications which, although may not work for everyone, are most effective when taken early.
On a practical level, an early diagnosis also gives someone the chance to explain the changes happening in their life to family and friends and allows families to plan ahead.
Throughout January, Canadians are encouraged to visit the Alzheimer Society’s campaign website, earlydiagnosis.ca, to learn how to spot the signs of dementia, understand the benefits of a diagnosis and prepare for a doctor’s visit.
Canadians can do their part if they learn the facts about dementia. By knowing more about the disease, they can help to dispel inaccurate information and work to also change society’s attitudes and opinions towards people with the disease.