Most under-recognized public health threat

According to a report published by Statistics Canada in 2014, Dementia is the 8th leading cause of death in Canada. It is the only cause of death among the top 10 without a way to prevent it, cure it or even slow its progression.

Too often Alzheimer's is treated as a issue that only impacts people that are aging, but I can attest to the fact that that is simply incorrect. This disease has far reaching impacts and the burden will continue to deepen.  

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, as of 2016, the combined health-care system and out-of-pocket caregiver costs are estimated at $10.4 billion per year. By 2031, this figure is expected to increase by 60 per cent, to $16.6 billion.

In an earlier post I talked about the passing of Bill C-233An Act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, making Canada the 30th Country with a National Dementia Strategy.

This is a step in the right direction, but what are we doing to help the people with dementia and their families right now? 

I want to find a way to unify us, caregivers and sufferers alike, so we can share our experiences in order to influence policy. 

Dementia is still not being seen as the epidemic that it is. The percentage of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s budget invested in dementia research is only 5%

A commitment to more public funding for dementia research is the best place to start.

Find out how Canada compares to these and other G7 nations in funding Alzheimer’s research.

Wandering during Dementia

Imagine going for a walk during the day, getting lost, and not being able to find your way back home. Or one of your loved ones wanders out in the middle of the night with no coat or socks. This is a reality the people living with dementia and their caregivers face. 

Wandering is a common behaviour for people with dementia and can occur for numerous reasons, including confusion, delusions, escape from a real or perceived threat and agitation.

It can be very scary for all involved and may lead to stress and concerns for safety.  Wandering may result in highly dangerous situations including elopement, in which the person leaves an area and is unwilling or unable to return. Six in 10 people with dementia will wander.

The easiest way to put yourself in the shoes of someone that has dementia was excellently described in an article on Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation website.

For the wanderer himself, the experience is much like going out into a mall parking lot and not knowing where you parked—without knowing why he’s out there.
— Maria Wellisch, R.N., vice president of corporate education for Morningside Ministries in San Antonio, Texas. 

Figuring out why a person living with dementia wanders can be difficult, because each person is different. We do know that wandering is a direct result of physical changes in the brain. Research has determined that it is more common in the middle or later stages of dementia, although it can occur at any point during the disease.

The risks of wandering can be minimized through proactive steps, strategies and services.

Here are 10 ways to prevent wandering

Influencing the influencers

I recently shared my caregiving story with teachers, social workers and counsellors for a workshop event at Lakehead University entitled Support Matters: Young Carers - Who are they and why do they need support?

It was a rousing discussion that resulted in some of the participants asking me some really interesting questions, such as if there were points when intervention could have helped. 

While I am not technically considered a young carer, which is typically categorized as someone aged 18 or under, I can certainly understand the unique circumstances young caregiver face.

I am still discovering the true impacts of this journey, even 10 years later.

Being a young caregiver can have drastically impact all aspects of life, including, but not limited to: falling behind on school, forming relationships and a higher risk for anxiety and depression.

By increasing awareness of the potential signs of a young caregiving, influencers can intervene and arrange for supports on an individual, social or community level.

My hope is that by sharing my experiences it will help support providers be more aware, empathetic and compassionate to young people, as you never know what might being going on at home. 

Sometimes all it takes is simply asking, "How are you doing?" or "Is there anything I can do to help?". 

Knowing that someone cares enough to take the time to ask can make all the difference.

Here are 10 potential signs of caregiver stress.

Calling All Caregivers: A Day to Put Yourself First

I was surprised to learn that today, July 24, was International Self-Care Day (ISD). ISD is a worldwide campaign objective to celebrate the importance of self-care and to encourage the general public to practice it responsibly.

Some of you may be asking yourself what constitutes self-care. According to the World Health Organization:

"Self-care is health refers to the activities individuals, families and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health."

Self-care is extremely important for any caregiver as your needs often come second to the person you are caring for, leading to caregiver burnout.

I have dabbled in self-care over the years, but had not committed to a consistent practice until the beginning of this month. I made a conscious decision to do one small thing every day that was just for me. This has taken several forms from yoga and reading, to revelling in a guilty pleasure like chocolate. Let me tell you, it feels good!

I take stock of how I am doing emotionally, mentally and physically and looking at what brings me down. I practice self-care by doing what builds me up instead and putting my priorities first. 

Since starting this journey, self-care has helped me alleviate negative energy, relax and recharge. By taking care of yourself, you can become a better caregiver. 

Self-care is a daily, lifelong habit and culture. Happy International Self-Care Day to one and all!

For more information about what self-care involves, visit the Alzheimer Society of Canada.