Some forms of dementia are reversible, caused by medication, depression, thyroid problems or even nutritional disorders.
About 500,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Studies indicate that within the next five years an additional 250,000 will be diagnosed. At the present time there is no cure for this disease.
Nevertheless Kim Nicholls brings a message of hope in her capacity as public education co-ordinator for the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan.
“About 50 per cent of that 500,000 are still able to live in their community,” she said. “The earlier they are diagnosed the longer they can live at home and function with the help of their family and friends.”
Early diagnosis is important. Some forms of dementia are reversible, caused by medication, depression, thyroid problems or even nutritional disorders. “If it’s reversible, the quicker you can get back to normal. If it’s irreversible you can get more information and figure out what is the next step,” she said.
The Alzheimer Society has developed a list of 10 warning signs:
Memory loss that affects day-to-day abilities. Anyone might forget where they parked the car. Forgetting you took the car to town and looking for another ride home, may be a red flag that something is wrong.
Difficulty with everyday tasks. A busy person might, when serving a meal, forget about the salad they put in the fridge earlier until a few hours after the meal. A person with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty remembering the various steps associated with preparing the salad.
Problems with language. Beyond groping for the right word, a person with Alzheimer’s may forget simple, everyday words or substitute words to form sentences that are difficult to understand. They may not comprehend the words they hear.
For example they might hear the word chair but no longer recognize what it means.
People fluent in two or more languages may mix up the languages, but not realize they are doing so.
Disorientation of time and place. A person with Alzheimer’s might not recognize his/her own house, particularly after a recent move. The person may awaken in the early hours, look at the clock but not understand that it is very early and get up.
Poor or decreased judgment. Not dressing appropriately for the occasion or the season; failing to recognize a medical problem that needs attention.
Problems with abstract thinking. Persons with Alzheimer’s may begin to have significant problems with such tasks as balancing a chequebook or paying bills.
Misplacing things. This involves not only putting things in inappropriate places, such as magazines in the refrigerator or a phone in the freezer, but also not recognizing that these objects are misplaced.
Changes in mood and behaviour. Beyond normal mood swings, going from calm to tears to anger –for no apparent reason.
Changes in personality. Radical personality changes, or becoming confused, suspicious or withdrawn. Changes may also include apathy, fearfulness or acting out of character.
Loss of initiative. Becoming very passive, apathetic; no longer entering enthusiastically into activities that were once enjoyed.
It’s important to get that diagnosis, to know what you’re dealing with, she said, because there are medications that can be taken for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. These medications can slow the decline of memory, language and thinking abilities.
“For some, they’ll work for 10 years, for others two or three years, for still others they won’t work at all. But when they do work they can give people time back,” Nicholls said.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease go to www.alzheimer.ca/english/index.php.
Shirley Byers writes from Kelvington, Saskatchewan