Many do not understand dementia, Alzheimer's

By Mabell, Dave, March 15, 2019.

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

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

Canadians don't usually mess around with cancer.

But we can still hear jokes about "moments of dementia" or early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Shari Remus says it indicates that many people do not really understand those brain-related conditions. And, an audience of Lethbridge listened to Thursday, they probably don't know how many people are interested – nor the differences between the two.

His presentation, as part of Brain Awareness Week, will be followed on Saturday by a speech scheduled by long-time scientific journalist Jay Ingram and a group of experts, starting at 4:00 pm. in the Sandman Lethbridge Lodge.

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

But with dementia – there are more than 100 types – that loss could be more significant. However, it could be treatable. Infection, stress or inappropriate drugs can be the cause, promptly reversed.

However, over 60% of dementia patients are diagnosed with Alzheimer's. In Canada, he said, more than 560,000 men and women live with that diagnosis today, with more than a million expected by 2035.

Many more people will be affected, Remus said, from spouses and carers to neighbors, long-time friends and qualified long-term care providers.

The experience of each patient can be different, he emphasized. 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 can focus on a balanced diet, proper exercise and maintaining their cardiovascular health. It is also important to continue to challenge your brain, Remus said: take a course, learn a language, enter a new club.

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

In Lethbridge, one questioner was told, the waiting time after such postponement usually varies between three and six months.

Advising or persuading someone to see their doctor can be difficult, 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 treating someone with Alzheimer's, and Hill said the local office – on 2 Avenue South – is able to offer resources and support.

Many facilities in Lethbridge provide long-term care, he noted. He heard "good stories" and bad ones – in the same places.

Wherever a patient goes, the speakers stressed the importance of visits and activities. Even when a person's real memories are lost, Remus said, their emotional memories remain strong.

An elderly mother could tell one of her children that she does not remember their name.

"But I know I love you."

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