Alzheimer’s in Canada: What you need to know
Tens of thousands of Canadians are diagnosed with dementia every year, impacting not just their quality of life, but also the lives of their friends and family.
Dementia is a “catch-all term” for describing specific symptoms caused by disorders of the brain that impact day-to-day function, says Anthony J Levinson, a psychiatrist and McMaster University professor of Psychiatry & Behavioural Neurosciences.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease in which brain cells are destroyed over time. For this reason, symptoms only get worse and for now, are irreversible. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Alzheimer’s disease accounts for approximately 60 to 70 per cent of cases of dementia. Other forms include Vascular dementia, Lewy Body disease and mixed dementia.
Some common symptoms of Alzheimer’s include memory loss, a decline in judgement and speech, and trouble completing familiar tasks. But the impact extends beyond just cognitive abilities – it can also manifest physically.
“As symptoms worsen to a more advanced stage, those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia can have trouble walking and standing, they may lose control of their bladder and experience a loss of coordination,” says Levinson, who is the John R Evans Chair in Health Sciences Educational Research.
The different types of dementia may display different early warning signs and symptoms and may progress differently.
Who is most likely to be diagnosed?
Age is one of the most important risk factors for dementia, with older Canadian adults being more likely than younger people to be diagnosed with some form of dementia. Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) highlights that the “prevalence of dementia more than doubles every five years for Canadians age 65 and older, from less than one per cent for those age 65 to 69 to about 25 per cent for those 85 and older.”
CIHI equated the prevalence to being as common as heart failure in people over the age of 80.
It isn’t impossible for younger Canadians to be affected. Health Canada reports that about three per cent of people diagnosed with dementia are under the age of 65. This is called young-onset dementia and, according to Health Canada, it often goes undiagnosed.
Currently, there is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But there have been a few treatments that have been released in recent years meant to help manage some the issues people experience.
In Canada, four medications have been approved by Health Canada for dementia treatment, but these are not miracle drugs, Levinson stresses.
“Conceptually, we can think of treatments as either being disease modifying (treating the underlying disease itself) or for symptom management. Up until recently, most treatments have focused on symptom management and, by boosting certain chemicals in the brain, might provide a bit of help for some people with dementia,” he says.
Levinson says the newer disease modifying treatments have not yet been approved in Canada, and that more study will be important to figure out how much people might benefit from them, and what some of the side-effects might be.
Levinson says just a few years ago there was an overall sense by many that there was very little that people could do to prevent dementia. But recent studies have shown there are things people can do to better their odds regardless of age and genetics.
“Modifiable risk factors account for a pretty significant risk of developing dementia. So, there is quite a bit that people can do to help reduce their risk,” he says.
Levinson received federal funding earlier this year for a project to educate the public about dementia prevention. DementiaRisk.ca was launched on McMaster’s Optimal Aging Portal, a credible source for aging information, shortly after and just wrapped its first phase in August.
Factors related to dementia risk include blood vessel health, hearing loss, cognitive activity, physical activity, and diet. Other factors include whether someone curbs smoking or consumes less alcohol.
“If you can address four or five of these factors, you can reduce your risk by about 60 per cent when compared to people who are doing none of those healthy lifestyle behaviours,” says Levinson.
Originally appeared at: https://healthsci.mcmaster.ca/alzheimers-in-canada-what-you-need-to-know/