January marks Alzheimer Awareness month

Watching a loved one endure a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease is, at any time, painful.

January is Alzheimer Awareness Month – Dr. Alois Alzheimer first identified the disease in 1906.

According to Alzheimer Society of Alberta, he described the two hallmarks of the disease – ‘plaques’ – which are numerous tiny, dense deposits scattered throughout the brain that become toxic to brain cells at excessive levels, and ‘tangles,’ which interfere with vital processes, eventually choking off the living cells.

When brain cells degenerate and die, the brain markedly shrinks in some regions.

Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal disease that eventually affects all aspects of a person’s life: how they think, feel, and act. Each person is affected differently. It is difficult to predict symptoms, the order in which they will appear, or the speed of their progression.

The following are some of the changes that may be expected as the disease progresses, according to the Society.

Cognitive and functional abilities: a person’s ability to understand, think, remember and communicate will be affected.

This could impact a person’s ability to make decisions, perform simple tasks, or follow a conversation. Sometimes people lose their way, or experience confusion and memory loss, initially for recent events and eventually for long-term events.

Emotions and moods – a person may appear apathetic and lose interest in favourite hobbies. Some people become less expressive and withdrawn.

Behaviour – a person may have reactions that seem out of character. Some common reactions include repeating the same action or words, hiding possessions, physical outbursts and restlessness.

Physical abilities – the disease can affect a person’s coordination and mobility, to the point of affecting their ability to perform day-to-day tasks such as eating, bathing and getting dressed.

Red Deerian Larry Quintilio lost his wife June to Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago. She was only in her 60s, and the symptoms had begun to surface several years prior to her death.

In the time since his wife’s passing, Larry has become involved with Early Onset Dementia Alberta, a group committed to raising awareness of the fact that many people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are relatively young. A major conference was hosted by the group in Red Deer last fall.

In some cases, they can be paying mortgages or even raising families and have all kinds of financial responsibilities.

Such a devastating diagnosis – which most people tend to think strikes relatively late in life – can mean a whole range of issues and challenges along with the actual process of dealing with the disease itself.

Sometimes, as Quintilio has pointed out, the spouse of someone suffering with Alzheimer’s not only has to scramble to pay the bills, but they also have to hire additional help to care for their loved one.

Other issues that must be explored include forms of home care, long-term care, diagnosis and medical support and just the overall lack of services and programming that is out there. As pointed out by the group, “Issues arise because the typical supports for dementia are based on the belief that patients (and their caregivers) are in their senior years, have adult children, are financially stable and have retired.”

Of course, any time of year is the right time to discuss Alzheimer’s disease and its implications on families and society as a whole. But as mentioned, January marks Alzheimer Awareness Month, so efforts to build awareness move to a higher level over the next few weeks.

It’s a vital conversation – with an aging population, more and more cases are expected to surface in the coming decades. Which demands more exploration of such pressing issues as long-term care and helping families meet the financial obligations of dealing with an early diagnosis.

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