The devastating effects of dementia are increasingly a reality for Canadians as our population ages. Alzheimer’s, a prevalent form of dementia, and other types of the disease are estimated to affect more than 600,000 Canadian today, and recent estimates are now projecting that over 1.3 million of us will be suffering from dementia’s devasting effects by 2030.
Dementia – which the World Health Organization describes as a deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities – is a neurodegenerative disease that progressively destroys one’s brain cells. Alzheimer’s is a particularly prevalent form of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of the disease’s victims. Of note, multiple studies show that women are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than men.
Sorting through the misconceptions
Spotting dementia in our loved ones can be tricky. We humans typically lose some of our cognitive capacity and memory over time as we age. What we might think are signs of dementia can be confused with illnesses such anxiety or depression, or may even be caused by the negative side effects of medication – all things that are fairly normal issues for ageing Canadians.
According to Dr. Samir Sinha, director of health policy research at the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) at Toronto Metropolitan University, “There are a lot of misconceptions around what dementia is and isn’t.”
Dr. Sinha, who is also the director of Geriatrics at Sinai Health and the University Health Network, stresses that dementia isn’t just memory loss, but can also involve changes to a person’s ability to understand spatial relationships, such as recognizing faces or objects in plain sight. These changes can affect their ability to drive, cause them to get lost on regular walking routes, or make them forget how to prepare a routine meal.
“When we talk about cognitive impairment or dementia, people think about memory, but it’s just one of the many cognitive domains we have,” he explains.
“Try to get to the bottom of it,” he recommends for people who worry they or a loved one might have dementia. “Then you can figure out things like: Are they depressed because they’re cognitively impaired, or vice versa. ‘Senior’s moments’ are okay – and they do happen. It’s when you realize it’s worse than that [that people should have it checked out].”
Ten signs to watch
According to Alzheimer’s Canada, the following are the top warning signs that a loved one may be experiencing dementia:
- Sign 1: Memory changes that affect day-to-day abilities
Are you, or the person you know, forgetting things often or struggling to retain new information?
- Sign 2: Difficulty doing familiar tasks
Are you, or the person you know, forgetting how to do a typical routine or task, such as preparing a meal or getting dressed?
- Sign 3: Changes in language and communication
Are you, or the person you know, forgetting words or substituting words that don’t fit into a conversation?
- Sign 4: Disorientation in time and place
Are you, or the person you know, having problems knowing what day of the week it is or getting lost in a familiar place?
- Sign 5: Impaired judgment
Are you, or the person you know, not recognizing something that can put health and safety at risk?
- Sign 6: Problems with abstract thinking
Are you, or the person you know, having problems understanding what numbers and symbols mean?
- Sign 7: Misplacing things
Are you, or the person you know, putting things in places where they shouldn't be?
- Sign 8: Changes in mood, personality and behaviour
Are you, or the person you know, exhibiting severe changes in mood?
- Sign 9: Loss of initiative
Are you, or the person you know, losing interest in friends, family and favourite activities?
- Sign 10: Challenges understanding visual and spatial information
Are you or someone you know having problems seeing things correctly? Or coordinating visual and spatial information?
We can help
Dementia can affect one’s ability to manage their day-to-day affairs, especially financial ones. Your advisor can help you or your loved one prepare for this possibility, and to help loved ones reduce the issues – including exploitation and abuse – that may arise as dementia progresses over time. Learn more about how we’re helping Canadians plan ahead for dementia, or talk to us today.
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