A series of training sessions held this week for first responders, medical professionals, caregivers and community members focused on broadening local awareness of dementia.
Led by visiting dementia experts Rosemary Laird, medical director for the Health First Aging Institute, and James Smith, clinical director of the Alzheimer’s Project in Florida, the training sessions helped participants understand the disease through the eyes of patients.
“Alzheimer’s is the final threat to our human desire to live a long, productive and quality-filled life,” Dr. Laird said, adding that dementia affects more than just the patient. “For every patient whose life has been tragically affected and their quality of life stolen by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, there are family members who are watching their loved one slowly deteriorate in front of their eyes in a slow day-by-day decline,” she said.
The sessions were held by the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Association of the Cayman Islands in partnership with the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and Americas at Cayman Islands Hospital.
What is dementia?
Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most commonly diagnosed form of dementia, other forms exist.
“Dementia is not a disease in itself, rather a group of symptoms that cause a person not to be able to function on a daily basis by themselves, especially in regards to thinking, reasoning and planning,” Mr. Smith explained. “Dementia is an umbrella term, much like the word cancer.”
Other common forms of dementia include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and fronto-temporal dementia. Dementia is a fatal brain illness that results in decreased physical and mental independence before resulting in death.
Part of the difficulty doctors face in diagnosing dementia early is that many people do not know how to distinguish the symptoms of dementia from those associated with normal aging.
The Alzheimer’s Association in the U.S. identifies 10 early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, including difficulty completing familiar daily tasks; confusion regarding time or place; memory loss; misplacing things; the inability to retrace their steps; and changes in mood or personality.
These symptoms differ from normal changes associated with age such as occasionally needing help when using technology, momentarily forgetting what day it is but recalling it later, or sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
The global effects of dementia
In 2010, Alzheimer’s Disease International estimated that there were approximately 35.6 million people living with dementia around the world.
This figure is expected to increase to more than 100 million by 2050.
Dementia, therefore, not only affects the patients, but their families, their communities, and even the economy.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, the total estimated cost of dementia worldwide was US$604 billion in 2010. The Alzheimer’s Association estimated that, in 2012 in the U.S., 15.4 million caregivers provided more than 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care valued at US$216 billion.
Myths and misconceptions
Despite the widespread prevalence of dementia and its increasing global impact, misconceptions about dementia are still common.
“I think Alzheimer’s and dementia are caught up in the fear of mental illness in general,” Dr. Laird said, explaining that many people hesitate to confront the disease because of the stigma associated with it.
“I do think the sheer numbers of people afflicted has led to a broader knowledge level about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia but it does not take away the stigma,” Dr. Laird said.
Misinformation about the factors which may cause or contribute to dementia is also widespread. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, everything from aluminum to silver dental fillings have been blamed for causing dementia over the years, but no scientific proof exists to support such claims. Current studies are focused on whether diet may influence the development of dementia.
Dr. Laird said there are also a great deal of misconceptions associated with the treatment of dementia.
“Many people, including some doctors, believe since there is no cure, there is no treatment and so they do not feel recognizing and diagnosing Alzheimer’s or dementia is helpful,” she said.
Although there is no cure for dementia currently in existence, there are a variety of treatments that can be helpful. “There are many associated symptoms, conditions, and complications that can be treated and thus provide quality of life improvements for patients and their caregivers,” Dr. Laird said.
Mr. Smith said that people often get overwhelmed by the prospect of having to face the disease and lose sight of the human being behind it.
“We must remember that this is a person with a disease, not a disease that is affecting this person,” he said.
Spreading awareness locally
This September marks the second annual World Dementia Awareness Month, in recognition of which Camana Bay will be illuminating certain signs and public spaces around the development with purple lighting from Sept. 20 to the end of the month.
The Alzheimer’s and Dementia Association of the Cayman Islands is encouraging local individuals and businesses to “Go Casual For A Cause” on Sept. 20 in recognition of World Alzheimer’s Day on Sept. 21.
The participation form is available at www.adacayman.com and registration is open until Aug. 30.