By ALEX HANDYSIDE
It was with a large dollop of relish that my partner steered the dinner party conversation to to the spot where I had found my missing car keys. Everyone laughed — me, too. The joke, after all, was on me. And it was a good one. (*see below)
Then there was the time I wracked my brain for hours trying to remember an everyday word. With mounting frustration, I caved and asked my partner: what is the word for "anti-bacterial medication"? (**answer below)
But then I thought afterwards — is this part of a trend? Could these be the first signs of dementia? Are there any other signs I’ve missed?
January is Alzheimer Awareness Month, and Alzheimer’s is something we should all be more aware of. Better diagnosis, coupled with people living longer and the baby boomer cohort reaching their seventies, means dementia is on the increase. And the numbers are frightening.
Rightly or wrongly, the word "epidemic" has been used to describe the growing number of Canadians living with dementia. Today, it’s 564,000, or 1.6 per cent of the population. But by 2031, that is projected to increase to 937,000 Canadians, or 2.6 per cent of the population.
The older you become, the higher the risk — one in 20 Canadians over age 65, and one in four of those over age 85 have some form of dementia. And almost two-thirds are women. That is scary.
While dementia is difficult to diagnose with certainty, there are some tell-tale warning signs. The Alzheimer Society has produced a convenient brochure outlining what to look out for. Keep these pointers in mind when spending time with the seniors in your life.
1. Memory loss affecting day-to-day abilities: forgetting things often or struggling to retain new information.
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks: forgetting how to do something you’ve been doing your whole life, such as preparing a meal or getting dressed.
3. Problems with language: forgetting words or substituting words that don’t fit the context.
4. Disorientation in time and space: not knowing what day of the week it is or getting lost in a familiar place.
5. Impaired judgment: not recognizing a medical problem that needs attention or wearing light clothing on a cold day.
6. Problems with abstract thinking: not understanding what numbers signify on a calculator, for example, or how they’re used.
7. Misplacing things: putting things in strange places, like an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.
8. Changes in mood and behaviour: exhibiting severe mood swings from being easy-going to quick-tempered.
9. Changes in personality: behaving out of character such as feeling paranoid or threatened.
10. Loss of initiative: losing interest in friends, family and favourite activities.
If you see these signs in a family member, you should talk to their GP. Granted, that’s a little more difficult if it’s a neighbour or a friend. In that case, the Alzheimer Society InfoLine is just a phone-call away: 1-800-611-6345. Call and you will be speaking to someone who understands and can offer guidance. Although there is no cure, there are some exercises, lifestyle changes and medications that can help.
If you are concerned about a friend or family member, you can request an appointment at one of Nova Scotia’s two memory clinics, in Halifax and Kentville. Dementia assessments are offered free of charge.
I spoke to my doctor and he assured me that forgetting a word or misplacing your keys are of no concern when they occur in isolation. Although dementia is not a natural part of aging, some slight memory loss is. It’s when such instances happen regularly, together with the other signs, that we need to take note.
* My keys? Well, it had been raining heavily so I had gone straight into the bedroom to change out of my wet socks. My car keys were where I had left them — on my bedside table.
** The missing word? Of course, who would ever forget the word ‘antibiotic’? Only me!
Alex Handyside is a certified professional consultant on aging and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. He is the owner of ScotiaCare Homecare & Caregivers Inc. (www.ScotiaCare.com), which was winner of the Better Business Bureau’s Atlantic Business Ethics Award.