By Sarah Seeley
Jan. 8, 2014
Debbie Crowther’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a year after she and her parents moved to P.E.I. from Texas.
In January 2010, she took her mother to the Alzheimer’s Association thinking she had caregiver’s stress. But it wasn’t just stress. Two days later, her mother was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
That day she became the caregiver to both her parents.
Debbie’s parents are just two out of 2,346 Islanders living with Alzheimer’s disease. Although P.E.I.’s aging population will add to that number, people in their 40s and 50s are also being affected by the disease.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. The symptoms include loss of memory, changes in judgment and reasoning, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language and changes in mood and behaviour. The symptoms worsen over time and some physical changes to the brain can be cured, but others are irreversible.
Leone Dixon, a caregiver at Smith’s Lodge in Charlottetown, has worked with several Alzheimer’s patients.
One of her residents was an 80-year-old woman. After she was diagnosed with the disease, she progressed rapidly. The woman became confused and frustrated and she didn’t understand things very well.
The resident was mentally in another era and occasionally she tried to leave the lodge because she thought she was going to work.
Her son was away when she was diagnosed and when he came back she was a completely different person because he didn’t see the disease’s progression.
Dixon said children usually have a difficult time adjusting when their parents have Alzheimer’s.
“You see a change in the person who raised you.”
Another of Dixon’s residents was high functioning, but she got disoriented and lost.
“She was very easy going.”
The resident also tried to leave the lodge because she thought she was going to visit her parents on Prince Street.
Dixon said the world the woman remembered was completely different than the world around her.
“She thought it was downtown Charlottetown 1970, not downtown Charlottetown 2014.”
Within a year the resident had to be moved from Smith Lodge to the Prince Edward Home.
Dixon said the transfer was stressful for the woman’s family because she had to be constantly reminded who people were and she was easily frustrated.
“It can be frustrating if they had to be asked the same question 15 times in 20 minutes.”
Dixon also said putting a loved one in a nursing home is a difficult experience for family members.
“There’s a lot of guilt over putting your parents in a home.”
But Dixon recommends putting Alzheimer’s patients in the care of a caregiver if it gets too stressful for family members.
“It’s not fair to the parent if the family is wearing themselves out.”
January has been declared Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and P.E.I.’s Alzheimer Society has a full agenda of events to raise awareness about the disease.
The theme of the month is “Early diagnosis keeps your life from unravelling.”
About 50 per cent of Canadians with dementia are not diagnosed early enough according to a study done by the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
Kate MacKinnon, the education co-ordinator for P.E.I.’s Alzheimer’s Society, said the focus of the campaign is to show the benefits of early diagnosis.
Fear and stigma are the barriers that prevent people from going for an early diagnosis and MacKinnon hopes Awareness Month will reduce this fear.
“People really don’t know the facts.”
Dixon said early diagnosis is important because it can help slow down the progression of the disease.
“Early diagnosis is huge because the earlier a person is diagnosed, the earlier they have access to medication and memory therapy.”
The Alzheimer Society’s campaign kicked off Jan.6 with the signing of the Alzheimer Awareness Month Proclamation by Premier Robert Ghiz.
On Jan.11, the Island Storm basketball team is holding an Alzheimer’s Awareness game at 7 p.m. at the Eastlink Centre in support of the Alzheimer’s Society.
The society is offering a public information session called Dementia 101. It will be held at the Alzheimer Society on 166 Ftizroy St. at 10 a.m. on Jan. 18.
Sessions will also be given for caregivers called First Link Caregiver Education Series. They will be held at the Abegweit Mi’kmaq Wellness Centre on Jan. 14, 21, and 28 from 3-4 p.m.
MacKinnon said the Alzheimer Society is not putting its emphasis on fundraising.
“We’re focusing more on awareness than fundraising.”
Dixon said the society is a good source of information on the disease.
“It’s very put together and accessible.”