The cost of forgetting

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Dementias will hit hard, warns Alzheimer Society

The Alzheimer Society in this province is calling for participation in this weekend's "Walk for Memories" while reminding of the need for funding to be provided for the research for a cure for a disease.

It is echoing the Alzheimer Society of Canada warning that dementia is on the rise, setting the stage for unprecedented requirements for family caregivers and health care.

A study done by the Alzhemier Society shows the number of dementia cases is drastically on the rise and will top 1 million over the course of the next generation of those reaching 65. - Photo illustration by Thinkstock

The Alzheimer Society in this province is calling for participation in this weekend's "Walk for Memories" while reminding of the need for funding to be provided for the research for a cure for a disease.

It is echoing the Alzheimer Society of Canada warning that dementia is on the rise, setting the stage for unprecedented requirements for family caregivers and health care.

In a study commissioned by the national Alzheimer Society, Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society, it was found that over 500,000 Canadians have dementia, 1 in 11 people over the age of 65. According to the study, within a generation, the number of Canadians living with dementia will more than double, reaching approximately 1.1 million.

The study was launched in 2008 and completed by RiskAnalytica, providing new figures on the financial impact of dementia, replacing numbers established in 1991 in the Canadian Study on Health and Aging" along with its followup in 1996.

Using risk assessment evaluation framework created by RiskAnalytica, progressing from statistics in 2008, estimations were made decade by decade to the year 2038.

However, according to the estimates, while in 2008 there were 103,700 new cases of dementia (about one every five minutes), in 2038 there will be 257,800 (one every two minutes).

In 2008, there are approximately 231 million family caregiving hours provided each year for those with dementia. In 2038, the study claims, there will be approximately 756 million.

In 2008, the cost of dementia in Canada was estimated at $15 billion a year (direct health costs, opportunity costs and indirect costs associated with provision of unpaid care). "This will reach $153 billion a year by 2038 if nothing changes," it states.

While prompted by the Alzheimer Society, the term dementia refers to a range of illnesses.

"Dementia refers to a large class of disorders characterized by the progressive deterioration of thinking, ability and memory. Symptoms commonly include loss of short and long-term memory, judgement and reasoning and also changes in mood, behaviour and the ability to communicate," states information from the Alzheimer Society.

"These symptoms may affect a person's ability to function at work, in social relationships or carry on with their usual activities of daily living. Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of dementia, representing about 64 per cent of cases."

The definition of "dementia" is often repeated by executive director of the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, Shirley Lucas.

"There are other dementias, like Pick's disease, frontal lobe dementias that people get diagnosed with. Their symptoms are similar, but a little different. The biggest difference is Alzheimer's disease is progressive. The other types of dementias, they are progressive, but not at the same rate and some are not progressive," she told The Telegram recently.

Something to remember about Alzheimer's, said Lucas, is that it is also fatal.

It can begin with the emergence of symptoms that are easily dismissed, she said.

"(Anyone affected), their day-to-day functioning is declined. They're not able to do tasks that they'd normally be able to do," she said. "An example of that would be, let's just say if it was a female who did all kinds of baking on a regular basis and did the recipes from her head. If she were developing Alzheimer's disease, she might miss some major ingredients and people would notice well, these cookies don't taste like they used to. That would be the initial kind of things people would pick up on."

There is also "difficulty with language. People might replace words and use words differently. They may not be able to find the right word when they're communicating with people," Lucas said. Differences in personality also can come into play - with mild-mannered people suddenly become easily agitated or individuals feeling consistently erratic or uninterested.

Often, the signs are first picked up on by those individuals affected.

"They could be driving and following a common route they would always follow and all of a sudden they'd be stopped at a light, pausing to say, 'I'm not sure which way I'm supposed to turn here,"' Lucas said, providing yet another example.

"The majority of the people who come to us are people who have received the diagnosis, but we do get a lot of people who say they've noticed something not quite right and are unable to put their finger on what it is. So they're contacting a number of organizations to see if they can help."

Lucas said her office is a place for inquiries, from those with a diagnosis and those not diagnosed but concerned they might be affected by the disease.

"We do have brochures to help prepare them for the visit to the doctor - to see what questions might be asked, what tests might be run, things of that nature," she said.

The tests will determine a diagnosis of dementia, including Alzheimer's, as opposed to some lapses in mental acuity that can happen under stress.

"The only confirmation of Alzheimer's disease is through an autopsy. However, in saying that, I think that with the experience of physicians doing the diagnosis and the tests they are using, it's very accurate," she said.

An MMSE, a mini mental examination, is often done, as well as a functioning test, determining what types of day-to-day activities individuals are able to do on their own.

"Those two tests combined will give them - we have separate scores - to tell them whether they're in the normal range of memory loss. There's no one test that tells you if you have Alzheimer's disease. They basically rule out all other causes," Lucas said.

For those diagnosed, the earlier the better.

"There are three medications on the market that can slow down the symptoms of the disease," Lucas said. "They work for some, they don't work for everyone."

In addition, there are support services which come into play early on, with time also being advantageous to arranging for the future - covering family and legal considerations.

Early onset Alzheimer's is diagnosed when people are in their 40s and 50s.

"We talk about various things they need to consider for the future, in looking at their finances and doing future planning, so they can prepare for the point where the person is not able to make decisions," Lucas said, adding the disease does become more common with age.

This means our population statistics are working against us when it comes to dementia and, specifically, Alzheimer's in the near future.

"Statistically, the disease is definitely going to change because in 2011 the first baby boomer will hit 65. Therefore, we're going to have a bulge in terms of the number of people who are affected. Our message here at the Alzheimer Society is now is the time to act. Now is the time to support research and support people in the community who are living with Alzheimer's," Lucas said.

She said she has continually experienced an increase in the number of people coming to the society office early on seeking help, over the last few years. This has led to Alzheimer's treatments beginning earlier. As well, medications have improved in assisting with the symptoms.

Even so, there is currently no stopping the disease. Hope remains for the search for a cure.

Yet research requires financial support. The biggest fundraiser for the Alzheimer Society in Newfoundland and Labrador is the Coffee Break campaign, yet the "Walk for Memories" is also significant, Lucas said, bringing in between $15,000 and $20,000 a year.

On Sunday, the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador will hold its "Walk for Memories" for 2010, proceeds from which will be divided between contributions to Alzheimer's research and support for in-province programs assisting people living with Alzheimer's disease and their families.

More information is available through the society, at 576-0608 and alzheimersociety@nf.aibn.com.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

HOURS OF INFORMAL CARE

Hours of informal care per year by care type

2008 44,593,849 139,289,343 46,955,109 230,838,301

2018 60,653,577 230,017,730 68,053,794 358,725,101

2028 81,728,906 349,924,438 97,664,641 529,317,984

2038 107,716,208 521,920,684 126,841,507 756,478,399

Source: Alzheimer's Society of Canada

Hours in long-term care

Hours in

community care

Hours in no

formal care

Total hours of informal family care

Organizations: Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canadian Society, The Telegram Coffee Break

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • g-man
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    what miss lucas forgot to mention was,are all the medical staff,in all these medical institutions who treat this horrible desease(dementia),qualified to handle dementia and alzhiemers patients.i just went through a horrible experience when my family member was treated with dementia at one of eastern healths facilties.as far as i was concerned this facilty lacked experience when it comes to treament.most of the time my family member was wacked out of his mind on heavy medications.it was also very hard for him to keep a track of all the different staff that treated him(it confused the hell out of my family member).dementia patients memories dont work like the average smart person.i feel a strong sympathy for anyone has to deal with this sad sad desease.i could add a lot more to this article about whats wrong with the inexperience of health care handling dementia patients.i think health care givers need a specail course to hancle this kind of desease.

  • g-man
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    what miss lucas forgot to mention was,are all the medical staff,in all these medical institutions who treat this horrible desease(dementia),qualified to handle dementia and alzhiemers patients.i just went through a horrible experience when my family member was treated with dementia at one of eastern healths facilties.as far as i was concerned this facilty lacked experience when it comes to treament.most of the time my family member was wacked out of his mind on heavy medications.it was also very hard for him to keep a track of all the different staff that treated him(it confused the hell out of my family member).dementia patients memories dont work like the average smart person.i feel a strong sympathy for anyone has to deal with this sad sad desease.i could add a lot more to this article about whats wrong with the inexperience of health care handling dementia patients.i think health care givers need a specail course to hancle this kind of desease.