Understanding the effects of Alzheimer’s on patients

Individuals with loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s disease took some time Thursday, Sept. 25

Dr. Dale Danyluk

Dr. Dale Danyluk

Individuals with loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s disease took some time Thursday, Sept. 25 at St. Mary’s Anglican Church to share stories and hear from an expert on the disease that takes its toll, not only on patients, but on caregivers as well.

Dr. Dale Danyluk, chief of services, seniors mental health at the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury asked session participants what questions they have on Alzheimer’s disease. Many people that attended have family or spouses affected by Alzheimer’s and they looked at questions ranging from diagnosis to prescribing drugs.

Among the discussion topics was the matter of being able to care for a loved one without losing one’s own focus on life. “The families, they bear a lot of the burden financially and emotionally,” said Danyluk.

He says burnout and depression occur regularly with caregivers as they deal with a disease that affects their daily routine. He says some effects of Alzheimer’s make sleeping difficult.

“You are so focused looking after your loved one, you don’t take time to care for yourself,” said Danyluk.

Determining if someone has Alzheimer’s can be difficult. Danyluk says it usually affects seniors 65 years and older but early onset Alzheimer’s affects people younger than 65. There is no proven way of preventing Alzheimer’s, but Danyluk suggests head injuries may increase the risk of the disease. He suggests keeping the mind active could help avoiding the disease.

When determining if a person has Alzheimer’s, Danyluk tries to understand a patient’s history. “It helps to know the backgrounds of people I’m working with,” he explained.

Danyluk says Alzheimer’s is an offshoot of dementia and people afflicted with it usually have trouble remembering things, finding the right words to use and caring for themselves. He says 70 to 80 per cent of people affected by dementia have Alzheimer’s.

Doctors try to rule out other possibilities before saying someone has the disease and Danyluk says there are cases where someone may have a different problem such as thyroid issues. The thyroid gland controls how quickly the body uses energy, makes proteins and controls how sensitive the body is to other hormones.

He says tumors sometimes affect a person’s behaviour as well. Doctors also take a close look at medications that a person uses.

“When you’re diagnosing, you’re looking at the big picture,” he said.

He spent some time with participants on the different effects and strengths of medication and listened to some of the challenges caregivers face and how they manage their personal lives and caring.

At some point, a caregiver may realize they are unable to continue caring for a person whose challenges need specialists. Putting a loved one in an institution is a tough decision said Danyluk. “That’s often a heartbreaking thing to do.”

Support is available for residents in Ponoka; a support group meets every second Tuesday at the Northcott Care Centre.