Alzheimer’s still widely misunderstood

Baby boomers in the West Kootenay, like their counterparts around the rest of the country, have a troubling lack of awareness about Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new online survey.

  • Jan. 27, 2011 1:00 p.m.

Baby boomers in the West Kootenay, like their counterparts around the rest of the country, have a troubling lack of awareness about Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new online survey.

“The gap in awareness in B.C. is sounding alarm bells as to whether our largest population is prepared for the rising tide of dementia that is ahead,” said Linda Hoskin, the Trail and Rossland support and education co-ordinator for the non-profit Alzheimer Society of B.C.

Perhaps more troubling, she adds, is that respondents to the national survey were unfamiliar with controllable risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and chronic depression.

“Awareness and education are the cornerstones for risk reduction, particularly since there is yet no cure or treatment to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” Hoskin said.

“People need to take care of their brain health. We need to work together to support those who are already on the dementia journey and to find the causes and cure for this devastating disease,” she continued.

The survey was released in early January to kick off national Alzheimer Awareness Month. It found that 24 per cent of B.C. baby boomers can’t name any of the early signs of Alzheimer’s, which worries Hoskins.

She said the risk level for boomers doubles every five years after age 65, and boomers make up almost 30 per cent of the province’s population.

Furthermore, the survey found less than half of those surveyed in B.C. were able to identify later-stage symptoms besides the most commonly known symptom of memory loss.

“This indicates a general lack of awareness of life-altering changes such as hallucinations and complete dependency on others for basic care,” Hoskins said.

“We want everyone, especially those 40 and older, to learn about Alzheimer’s disease, know the warning signs, and reduce their risk by making simple lifestyle changes,” she said.

To help residents with the impact of Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, the society runs a local support and information group. It offers practical tips, a supportive environment, and a chance to learn from, and share with, others in similar circumstances.

Alzheimer’s is the leading form of dementia, a progressive and ultimately fatal disease of the brain that robs memory and steals the ability to reason, communicate and perform daily tasks.

Changes in the brain can begin to appear decades before diagnosis, and progression can last from seven to 10 years. Eventually, the person affected will require 24-hour care and supervision.

Age is the single biggest risk factor, but the disease can strike as early as 40.

The Alzheimer Society of B.C. is a non-profit organization providing province-wide support and education for families impacted by dementia and anyone concerned with memory loss, and leads a provincial effort to transform dementia care in the province.

More information on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia is available at www.alzheimerbc.org.

For more information on local resources for caregivers, contact Hoskin at 250-352-6788, toll-free 1-877-452-6788 or lhoskin@alzheimerbc.org

You can test your Alzheimer knowledge by taking the survey at www.alzheimerbc.org/testyourknowledge.aspx

/ Submitted by Gord Woodward