Alzheimer’s disease has a significant impact on friends, families and society. It costs $15 billion per year to support people with Alzheimer’s in Canada, and it’s expected to cost $153 billion per year by 2038.
The cost is rising due to people living longer and because there will be a higher number of older adults at that time, according to Jill Mercier, public education co-ordinator of the Alzheimer Society of Cambridge. She explained what Alzheimer’s is, its impact, and how to prevent it, during her visit to Trinity Anglican Church in Cambridge on Oct. 13.
“If someone is worried about themselves, or a friend or family member, they really should go see a physician,” she said. “But when they begin to see the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, that’s when they need to get checked out.”
The 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease are memory loss that affects day-to-day abilities, difficulty performing tasks that have been familiar to someone their whole life, problems with simple language skills, disorientation, impaired judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things regularly, changes in mood and behaviour, changes in personality and loss of initiative.
If someone thinks he has Alzheimer’s disease, or a friend or family member thinks he does, the person should have a series of medical tests. Typically, doctors will want to know the person’s medical history, as well as his mental status. He will then have to take part in a physical exam and several laboratory tests. Less often, he will have to go through psychological evaluations.
Mercier explained why it’s important to have an early diagnosis. She said a person could reduce the risk of delirium, car accidents, errors in medication and even financial difficulties.
“When someone has Alzheimer’s disease, their finances are often mismanaged because they have trouble doing it themselves,” said Mercier. “Upon diagnosis, that person is able to relearn how to perform basic financial tasks.”
An early diagnosis also allows people time to adjust to having the disease, and provides them with the opportunity to plan for the future.
Mercier described various ways to prevent and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. She said people need to think more about their brain health and activity, and make healthy food choices by following the Canada Food Guide. It’s also important for someone to keep their brain active, stay physically active and socially connected, and take charge of their overall health. Reducing stress and being serious about safety are also key factors in preventing Alzheimer’s.
The Alzheimer’s Society of Cambridge offers volunteer opportunities, support groups and counselling.
“We support research to find the cause and cure for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Mercier. “We also offer education to professional caregivers and families of people with the disease.”