Half of Canadians with dementia wait too long for diagnosis, Alzheimer Society warns

Watch the video above: Half of Canadians with dementia wait too long for diagnosis. Crystal Goomansingh reports. 

TORONTO — With more than 30 years of working as a registered nurse, Barbara Crawford frequently saw the quick decline dementia patients faced.

The now 66-year-old retired nurse from Owen Sound, Ont. knew something was wrong years before she was diagnosed herself with vascular dementia in 2012.

It started with having trouble remembering things: her house keys or daily tasks at work and around the home. But then it became scary — losing her bearings and where she was going while driving in her car or paying up at the grocery store and forgetting what different dollar bills looked like.

“It’s panic — the first thing you feel is panic, especially being lost. It just leaves you kind of stunned, it’s scary,” Crawford explained.

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She’s thankful she was diagnosed early, though. It left her with control over how to respond to her dementia.

READ MORE: ‘Woefully unprepared’ for world dementia epidemic, report warns

As many as 50 per cent of Canadians with dementia are not diagnosed early enough, losing valuable time when intervention can help these people with managing their daily lives, the Alzheimer Society of Canada is warning in a new campaign.

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January is Alzheimer Awareness Month. This year, the national organization is telling Canadians, doctors and caregivers to spot the signs of dementia in their family members and patients.

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“Early diagnosis helps the person and family member plan for the future. They can have a discussion with their physician and they know what they may expect and plan more effectively,” Mimi Lowi-Young, CEO of the society, told Global News.

The problem is that dementia is still marred by stigma, she said. There’s fear of the disease, patients may be hesitant to disclose loss of judgement or bouts of forgetfulness and doctors may not be looking for the signs.

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Early diagnosis would help patients get the support they need, through keeping them socially and physically active and with medical intervention.

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“We’ve got an aging population and people can live with dementia with the right kinds of support, so they can deal with the unknown and get questions answered,” Lowi-Young said.

For Crawford, the diagnosis gave her “peace of mind” that something was legitimately wrong. She was offered medication to help with her memory, she joined with others facing dementia and she sought the advice of the Alzheimer Society.

And even with her diagnosis, Crawford has her autonomy — while her daughter lives close by, she lives on her own and found solutions for day-to-day issues that once plagued her.

“To me it’s everything,” Crawford says of being self-sufficient.

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She keeps a hook by the door to hang onto her house keys, she knows to log future appointments and other meetings in a daily planner and she labels her stove for safe cooking. She also wears a necklace around her neck in case of falls or any other accidents.

About 747,000 Canadians have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and this number is expected to climb to 1.4 million in less than 20 years.

A report last month warned of a looming epidemic that global officials are “woefully unprepared” for. Meanwhile, for the first time, G8 countries met in December for an inaugural special summit on dementia. Most of these countries have established national dementia plans – Canada is not one of them.

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READ MORE: Alzheimer’s most costly malady in US topping cancer, heart disease: study

Read more about the Alzheimer Society’s early diagnosis campaign here.

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