Alzheimer’s disease is also known as the long goodbye.
Sept. 21 was National Alzheimer’s Day and to raise awareness St. Mary’s Anglican Church and Maxine Jonson hosted a coffee break and information session about the disease.
“I come to learn as much as I can about it,” said Barbara Johnston, whose mother suffers from dementia.
“And to learn how to control emotions and anger,” added another woman, who wished to remain anonymous. Her spouse suffers from Alzheimer’s.
Many community members who attended the coffee break agreed accidental frustration often comes with caring for someone with the disease.
“It turns your life upside down. It’s a whole new world, a different relationship,” said the woman.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are hard to diagnose and in some cases they can progress quickly. There are no known cures but medications can slow the disease’s progression, sometimes.
“It’s (medications) not for everybody … some of the side effects are horrendous,” said Johnston.
Dr. Dale Danyluk, from the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury, said some forms of medication are abandoned after being thoroughly researched because the side effects outweigh any benefits.
When patients come in complaining of memory problems, Danyluk will check for dementia and depression, both can affect memory. However, he says some patients have insight and can sense something wrong.
To make a diagnosis, Danyluk will first look at other medical factors such as infections. He’ll check body functions, organs and medical history, in case medication is needed.
Danyluk said in today’s society everything is rushed, including visits to the doctor. Early signs of Alzheimer’s are sometimes brushed off as a person having a bad day or a regular occurrence that comes with age.
When they come in, Danyluk says many people are embarrassed and scared. Being brushed away by a doctor re-enforces these feelings and patients will fade themselves away and not seek assistance, further delaying a diagnosis.
There is no known cause of Alzheimer’s and it’s not known if the disease is hereditary. It’s thought a younger onset of the disease may be associated with hereditary factors.
Danyluk says there may not be curing medications but there are still options when working with sufferers of the disease. “Instead of focusing on the problems, or the deficits, or the things they can’t do so well any more I try and focus on the strengths.”
Exercise, both mental and physical, that also have social factors is thought to help keep the brain healthier and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s, said Danyluk.
However, not everyone is able to see Alzheimer’s with an encouraging attitude.
Johnston wishes more people would attend events such as the coffee break to understand the disease better. She says there are sufferers who almost never receive visitors because friends and family have troubles dealing with the reality of the disease.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re well educated, rich or poor, everybody can get it,” said Johnston.
Alberta has the highest rate of early onset Alzheimer’s in Canada, and it’s not known why. Danyluk said more money went to treating the disease than researching preventative measure because the factors of the disease are still unclear to medical professionals.