When I heard that seven hundred and fifty-thousand Canadians are now living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia and that the number will surpass one million over the next generation, I began to understand the importance of understanding this condition. Alzheimer’s affects not only those diagnosed, but also their spouses, daughters, sons, and all others providing care to them.
On Thursday, January 26th, Karen Phair, the Public Education Coordinator of Peel Region’s Alzheimer Society, discussed the topic with members of the UTM community. The central aim of the presentation was, in my opinion, to explain how a person living with dementia perceives the world, and how this condition affects his or her brain function.
Karen explained that, for a person with dementia, the cognitive function of the brain, which normally informs (along with the emotional function) our behavior, is suppressed. This leaves emotions as the only conditional of behavior. Such an occurrence gives us an important clue as to how to interact with a family member or friend suffering Alzheimer: trying to use logic or engaging in an endless argument will most certainly end in frustration for both parties. A sensitive, understanding approach that privileges non-verbal messages may create a better connection and further healthy communication with your elderly loved one.
As with many mental disorders and other diseases, a crucial step to working through them is to recognize the existence of a problem. This is particularly difficult, since the immediate response of someone in the early stages of dementia is to deny that they are experiencing challenges. It is never easy- often, it is quite scary- to acknowledge that something is not right with oneself. This is the time to be understanding and sympathetic, to show our loved ones going through these difficulties how much we care. It is also important to recognize the warning signs of the disease: memory loss affecting day-to-day abilities, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation, impaired judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, changes in mood, behavior, or personality, and loss of initiative.
If you believe that you have a family member who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, it is wise to seek help for this person as well as yourself. The Alzheimer Society of Peel is devoted to alleviating the personal and social consequences of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and to help find the causes, prevention, and cures. The Society have many programs and services ranging from counselling and support, education and outreach, research, to home and respite care.
Should you need more information, you can find it at the Alzheimer Society’s webpage, or by phone: 905 278 3667.