As many as 50 per cent of Canadians with dementia are not diagnosed early enough.
And that means many Victoria residents living with dementia are losing precious time when care and support can make a tremendous difference in their quality of life, says Meriel Randerson, support and education co-ordinator for the Alzheimer Society of B.C. for Greater Victoria.
An early diagnosis can also avert unnecessary crises for their families, she adds.
There’s a growing urgency to the message, as more than 70,000 British Columbians already live with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia — a number that is set to double within the next 25 years as Baby Boomers age. And almost three-quarters of Canadians know someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.
“A diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can be devastating, but it can also bring relief,” says Randerson. “Early diagnosis keeps your life from unravelling.”
Some people with dementia believe that very little can be done for them. Yet early diagnosis can bring a measure of relief and help them take control of their lives. “Support after diagnosis helps them gain perspective on their circumstances, fears, beliefs and hopes.”
Earlier diagnosis also opens the door to important local information, resources and support through the society, which helps people with dementia focus on their abilities to remain independent in their homes and communities longer.
With early diagnosis, people can access medications that, although not effective for everyone, have the greatest impact when taken early.
“On a practical level, an early diagnosis gives someone the chance to explain the changes happening in their life to family and friends and allows families to plan ahead,” says Randerson.
Seeing a doctor for diagnosis can also rule out other treatable conditions, such as thyroid disease, infections, and side effects of medications, which sometime mimic dementia symptoms or behaviours.
Fear and stigma continue to be huge barriers to seeking help. In a recent Nanos survey, 60 per cent of Canadians polled said it would be harder to disclose if they, or someone close to them, had Alzheimer’s disease compared with other diseases because of the social stigma associated with mental health issues.
The society is working to break down those barriers, through a variety of local programs and services.
A support and information group, for example, serves as a forum for sharing practical tips and strategies for coping with the disease. It helps create support and friendship with others whose lives are affected by dementia.
For more information contact Randerson at 250-382-2052 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And to learn how to spot the signs of dementia, understand the benefits of a diagnosis and prepare for a doctor’s visit, visit www.earlydiagnosis.ca.