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Thousands diagnosed, millions affected

Alzheimer Society of Durham is looking to spread awareness of disease affecting hundreds of thousands of Canadians

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Alzheimer’s leads to parts of the brain that control thought and memory destroyed, leading to many problems as the disease progresses. The Alzheimer Society of Durham Region has launched its annual campaign to bring more awareness to the disease.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

It’s a disease that will see thousands of Canadians diagnosed with it, but millions are affected by it.

Alzheimer’s slowly destroys the parts of the brain that control thought and memory, and can lead to problems with language, mood swings, a loss in motivation, behavourial issues and disorientation.

And while millions upon millions of dollars goes to figure out what causes this disease – the root is still not really known – organizations are using the month of January to help raise awareness of the disease and the services available for those that have it and are affected by it.

One of those is the Alzheimer Society of Durham Region, which has launched its annual Alzheimer Awareness Month with its new #StillHere campaign.

“There’s assumptions of when people think of a person with dementia, there’s a certain picture that may come to mind, and what doesn’t come to mind is a capable person. So sometimes get viewed more by this than who they are as a person,” Loretta Tanner, the public education manager of the Alzheimer Society of Durham Region, tells The Oshawa Express. “It’s certainly, in many areas, the concern that the impact of stigma alone and people feeling excluded and perhaps disempowered. Sometimes that can have almost harm as the disease process in affecting people’s quality of life and even sometimes the experience of their symptoms.”

According to the Alzheimer Society, there are 747,000 Canadians currently living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias today, with that number expected to climb to 1.4 million in the next 15 years. Women see much higher diagnosis rates of Alzheimer’s, making up 72 per cent of Canadians living with the disease.

The campaign will also be working to educate people on the warning signs of Alzheimer’s, with some signs typically being attributed to just getting older. Symptoms such as occasionally forgetting things, minor short-term memory loss and not remembering exact details of an event can fall into both columns for both aging and Alzheimer’s.

However, getting checked early can make all the difference, with a 2004 study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine finding that detailed neurophysical testing can find mild cognitive difficulties up to eight years before a person meets the clinical criteria for Alzheimer’s.

“If people see red flags, they should get it looked into,” Tanner says. “It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to end up in a diagnosis of dementia, but it might mean that there’s a more serious problem relating to the brain function and it needs to be assessed.”

Later this month, the Alzheimer Society of Durham Region will be hosting its annual Walk for Alzheimer’s at the Durham College/UOIT Wellness Centre. Those looking to register for the Jan. 24 event can do so at walkforalzheimers.ca.

For more information on Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and Alzehimer’s itself, please visit alzheimer.ca.