August 24th, 2019

Many don’t understand dementia, Alzheimer’s

By Mabell, Dave on March 15, 2019.

Brenda Hill and Shari Remus, from the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories, answer questions following a presentation at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

Canadians don’t usually joke about cancer.

But we may still hear quips about “dementia moments” or early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Shari Remus says that indicates many people don’t really understand those brain-related conditions. And, a Lethbridge audience heard Thursday, they likely don’t know how many people are affected – nor the differences between the two.

Her presentation, as part of Brain Awareness Week, will be followed Saturday by a keynote speech by longtime science broadcaster Jay Ingram and an expert panel, starting at 2 p.m. in the Sandman Lethbridge Lodge.

Remus, representing the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, reminded participants at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs that memory loss is something most people experience as they get older.

But with dementia – there are more than 100 kinds – that loss might be more significant. Still, it may be treatable. Infection, stress or inappropriate medications may be the cause, readily reversed.

More than 60 per cent of dementia patients are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, however. In Canada, she reported, more than 560,000 men and women are living with that diagnosis today, with more than one million expected by 2035.

Many more people will be impacted, Remus said, everyone from spouses and caregivers to neighbours, longtime friends and qualified long-term care providers.

Each patient’s experience may be different, she stressed. And despite their limitations, people “can still have a really good quality of life” for years to come.

To avoid the condition, Remus said Canadians may focus on a balanced diet, suitable exercise and maintaining their cardio-vascular health. It’s also important to continue challenging your brain, Remus said – take a course, learn a language, join a new club.

But when a family member or friend is showing signs of increasing memory loss, it’s important they see their family doctor. Lethbridge has specialists – gerentologists, neurologists – who can make the diagnosis, but they need a referral from a general practitioner.

In Lethbridge, a questioner was told, the waiting time after that referral usually ranges between three and six months.

Advising or convincing someone to see their doctor may be difficult, client services worker Brenda Hill admitted.

“But it’s the kindest thing you can do,” potentially saving someone from a serious accident involving that person or a loved one.

Spouses and family members may need help in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, and Hill said the local office – on 2 Avenue South – is able to offer resources and support.

Several facilities in Lethbridge provide long-term care, she noted. She’s heard “good stories” and bad – about the same places.

Wherever a patient is living, the speakers emphasized the importance of visits and activities. Even when a person’s factual memories are lost, Remus said, their emotional memories remain strong.

An aging mother may tell one of her children she can’t remember their name.

“But I know I love you.”

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