My father suffered from mixed dementia – vascular dementia and probable Alzheimer’s disease. There are few things that aging baby boomers fear more than a diagnosis of dementia, a terminal disease that robs one of memory and function.
“Dementia is the greatest global challenge for health and social care in the 21st century.”
Millions of people around the world suffer from dementia. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, someone in the world develops dementia every three seconds. Age is the biggest risk factor. Between the ages of 75 to 84, more than 10 percent will have some form of dementia. After 85, the rate increases to more than a third. In Canada alone, over half a million Canadians are living with dementia with an estimated 25,000 new cases diagnosed every year. By 2031, that number is expected to rise to 937,000, an increase of 66 percent, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
Dementia is not a specific disease; it refers to progressive impairments in memory and other cognitive functions. There are actually about 100 forms of dementia – an umbrella term for conditions in which brain cells die on a large scale – but 60 to 80 percent of cases are Alzheimer’s disease. A diagnosis of dementia is based on a pattern of signs and symptoms such as the 10 warning signs of dementia, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada:
- Memory loss that affects day-to-day abilities
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Problems with language such as forgetting or using wrong words
- Disorientation in time and space
- Impaired judgment
- Frequent problems with complicated tasks
- Misplacing things
- Sudden changes in mood and behaviour
- Changes in personality
- Loss of interest in doing things
Persons affected by dementia can continue to live independently for some time; however, as their condition progresses, they may require increasing levels of care, first within their home and then in a long-term care facility when their symptoms become too difficult to manage by family caregivers.
What the research is saying
Researchers don’t know the basic mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The most recent drug to help treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s is more than a decade old, and there is still no cure. New drugs to treat brain disease fail at an alarming rate with only nine out of every 100 medications approved to go on to be tested on humans. However, the failures have helped inform research, and the resulting improved imaging technology has helped researchers better understand how the brain works.
In November 2019, a Chinese company announced it received approval to sell V-971, or Oligomannate, a drug it claims to reduce inflammation in the brain. It’s the first new drug introduced to treat dementia since 2003. There is some skepticism because research on the efficacy of the medication has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Lifestyle choices that can lower your risk of dementia
It is important to remember that dementia is not a natural consequence of aging. Risk depends, in part, on genetics, but mostly on the lifestyle choices we make.
There’s no strong evidence that anything prevents Alzheimer’s disease, but here are some common-sense practices that may help delay memory loss:
- Eat healthy and nutritious food and avoid common hazards in the typical modern diet such as sugar and salt.
- Control your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and stress.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Stay active physically and mentally – at least 150 minutes of moderate/strenuous exercise per week.
- Avoid harmful toxicants (smoking) and pollutants.
- Be socially engaged with family, friends and community. Avoid social isolation.
- Avoid brain injury.
Learn about dementia
Become aware and become educated about dementia. It is up to all of us to be proactive and take the necessary steps to protect our loved ones and ourselves. Look after both your body and your mind. I have been there.
My 14-year dementia care journey with my father changed me forever. It was the toughest thing I ever experienced. But I would do it all over again because it enabled him and me to journey from rage, hopelessness and despair to understanding, acceptance and forgiveness – from darkness to light. It allowed me to make a truly profound difference in the life of another. It taught me what unconditional love really is.
- The Alzheimer Society of Canada www.alzheimer.ca
- Alzheimer’s Association (U.S.) https://www.alz.org
- BrainXchange http://brainxchange.ca
- The Mind Diet canadianliving.com/health/prevention-and-recovery/article/mind-diet-a-new-way-to-prevent-alzheimer-s
- Test Your Memory for Alzheimer’s and Dementia (5 best tests) www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/2016/04/alzheimers-dementia-memory-test.html
- The Alzheimer Store http://alzstore.com
- The Forgetting. Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic by David Shenk (Book and DVD)
*The Alzheimer Society of Canada