Circle of Hope Alzheimer Learning Series comes to Manitoulin

LITTLE CURRENT—Facing the unknown can be terrifying, especially when it comes to the impact dementia can have on peoples’ lives. To help empower people with knowledge about this debilitating disease, the Alzheimer Society brought the Circle of Hope Alzheimer Learning Series to the Little Current recreation centre upper hall for a daylong series of workshops and seminars that dealt with what the disease entails, what can be done to offset its onset and the programs that the Alzheimer Society offers.

The day began with Alzheimer’s Disease 101 presented by Mariette Kozicki. “Alzheimer’s disease is not an illness we can ignore,” she said. “It has an overwhelming impact on the people who develop it and the families who care for them.”

The statistics are startling. “By the year 2020, 225,000 people will be diagnosed with some form of dementia,” she said. “That is a 40 percent increase over 181,000 in 2011.”

The impact on society is immense. “In 2011, caregivers put in 87.1 million hours,” explained Ms. Kozicki. “In the year 2020 this number is expected to grow to over 144 million, that is a 65 percent increase.”

The stress level for families dealing with the fallout from the disease results in a 23 percent increase from that of caregivers of those without dementia and the stress on the health system is also dramatic. “People with dementia receive 75 percent more informal care and 45 percent more formal care than homecare recipients without dementia.”

Currently, there are 747,000 Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia and that number will skyrocket to 1.4 million by the year 2020. That is a doubling in less than 20 years, explained Ms. Kozecki. And it is not simply a disease of the elderly either. “More than 71,000 Canadians living with dementia are under the age of 65,” she said.

Women tend to bear the brunt of the disease with a double barrel hit. “Women represent 72 percent of Canadians living with Alzheimer’s and women account for 70 percent of family caregivers,” said Ms. Kozecki. “A woman’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s is now greater than her chance of developing breast cancer.”

Ms. Kozecki explained that Alzheimer’s disease is a set of symptoms that include loss of memory, understanding and judgment.

Dementia itself is not a disease, however, it is a set of symptoms that accompanies a disease. There are a number of diseases that express dementia symptoms and they include Alzhemier’s, Pick’s Disease, Lewy Body Disease, Vascular Dementia and Creutzfeldt-Jakob (the human version of Mad Cow).

Some types of dementia can be reversed, such as those stemming from depression, medications, nutritional disorders and metabolic disorders to name a few, but Alzheimer’s is not reversible, noted Ms. Kozicki. “It is progressive, damage increases over time; it is degenerative, brain cells degenerate or break down and it is irreversible, the damage cannot be repaired and at present, there is no known cure.”

The Circle of Hope Learning Series’ initial goal is to publicize the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and to differentiate those from the normal forgetfulness.

With normal forgetfulness, a person recognizes people and places, even if they cannot recall their names, remember the day and time, might forget details of a recent experience but not the experience itself and forget items, but will often remember later.

With Alzheimer’s, however, the 10 warning signs are: memory loss that effects day-to-day function; difficulty performing tasks, problems with language; disorientation of time and place; poor or decreased judgment; problems with abstract thinking; misplacing things; changes in mood and behaviour; changes in personality; and a loss of initiative.

When it comes to getting a diagnosis, Ms. Kosicki said that it is important to recognize that there is no single test and the process may be quite lengthy and involve your medical history, a mental status exam, laboratory tests, neuropsychological evaluations and a physical exam.

There are methods available to decrease the risk and/or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Those include the management of relevant medical disorders, healthy eating, exercising, having a socially interactive lifestyle, intellectual activity, having close caregiving relationships and protecting your head.

“Early diagnosis can make a big difference in the lives of people affected by dementia,” said Ms. Kozecki. “It opens the door to treatment and help and gives them time to plan ahead. People with dementia can live long, productive lives and their caregivers don’t have to go it alone. There are many ways the Alzheimer Society can help.”

The workshops continued with a session on ‘Adapting to Brain Changes’ which centred on shifting the focus of dealing with the disease. “Ultimately, we can’t expect the person with dementia to change,” said Jessica Bertuzzi-Gallo, community developer with the Alzheimer Society. “We must change. We need to accept the individual as he is in this moment.”

By recognizing we cannot “make the person better” by focussing on correcting the behaviours or errors it is shown, in fact, that those efforts may actually make matters worse by causing unnecessary anxiety for the sufferer.

Understanding the person with dementia often provides clues as to how to deal with the concerns presented by their actions. With agitation, for example, a list of ‘do’ items include giving the person something to hold, distract them with music they like, talk about a happy moment in their lives, discover if their environment is too noisy or bright and/or whether they are tired. A list of ‘don’t’ items to deal with agitation would include asking the sufferer to stop, telling them to “calm down” or raising your voice.

The Circle of Hope series continued with a presentation on behavioural supports, building a Circle of Hope and the programs and services provided by the Alzheimer Society.

Those programs include Minds in Motion, a two hour community based social program that runs for eight weeks and which incorporates physical activity and mental stimulation and is designed for people with early to mid-stage signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias and their care partners. The Music Heals Program, which uses iPod technology to provide an individual with personalized music intervention (an amazing YouTube video demonstrates the impact of this program that can be found online by searching for “Alive Inside Film of Music and Memory Project – Henry’s Story”). The music heals program is a six week program designed to “stimulate memory, provide engagement and support self expression and identity.”

Two programs the society hopes to start up soon include The Art Therapy program, which provides art therapy sessions conducted by a trained professional and utilizes various activities to increase stimulation and The Learning Series, which is planned for spring 2015 and will consist of a four-week series for caregivers that will cover detailed education on ‘What is Dementia,’ ‘Adapting to Brain Changes,’ ‘Planning Ahead’ and ‘Building a Circle of Hope’.

The Alzheimer Society has a new office located in Little Current across from the Bank of Montreal on Water Street where the former Orthopedic Shoe store was located.