Knowing the warning signs of dementia can make the rest of your life, or the rest of a loved one’s life, much more fulfilling.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan, between 20 and 50 per cent of people with dementia actually receive a diagnosis.
As many as 50 per cent of Canadians with dementia are not diagnosed early enough, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
“The importance of having that early diagnosis is people with dementia get to have those importance conversations with family about end of life, about advanced health care directives, about planning for the future with regards to power of attorneys and wills and estates and really getting to live their life to the fullest,” said Joanne Michael, program services manager with the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan.
January is Alzheimer awareness month, and the society is encouraging everyone to learn more about warning signs and the steps to getting a diagnosis.
Michael said the low numbers of people actually being diagnosed with dementia — and getting them diagnosed quickly — is because of myths and lack of knowledge.
“There are still a lot of myths associated with the disease, (like) a lot of things that are warning signs associated with dementia are a normal part of aging,” Michael said.
She listed memory loss that affects everyday function, slight disorientation to time and place and problems with judgment.
“It’s still a myth that that’s all just a normal part of aging when there are many other things that it could be, some of which are treatable,” Michael said.
She said that information came directly from people who have dementia. She said it’s not usually until life becomes difficult for the person with dementia or their loved ones.
“Sometimes it’s even difficult for them to articulate to the physician what’s going on,” Michael said.
She said the biggest warning sign the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan looks for is change in that person’s behaviour. The society works with those people and/or their families to help them identify the warning signs and advising and preparing them for a meeting with a physician.
She said the understanding and treatment of dementia like Alzheimer has changed since she started working for the Regina office.
“It used to be that if you thought you had Alzheimer disease, you didn’t,” Michael said.
That’s a myth.
She said now people suffering from dementia are realizing that something is wrong, even if they can’t explain it.
“Now we have learning opportunities for people with dementia and we have regular support groups for people with dementia who are very aware of the symptoms that they’re experiencing and the challenge that they’re experiencing,” Michael said.
She said over time, the focus of dementia support has moved from the families to empowering the person who has the disease.
Michael said 50 per cent of people living with dementia still live in the community.
She said anyone with questions can call the dementia help line at 1-800-263-3367.