It took two years for Faye Forbes to receive the diagnosis that changed her life.
She forgot appointments, to feed her dogs, where she left the dishcloth. She’d decide to do laundry then stare at the hamper, wondering how to start what felt like an insurmountable task. She had trouble forming her thoughts and she lost track of minute details.
“It was like my head was totally in a fog all the time. I knew what I wanted to say but I couldn’t get them from my brain to my mouth. They got lost in between,” Forbes told Global News.
At 58 years old, doctors diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s disease. The Halifax-based Anglican reverend was caught off guard: she was healthy and without any family history of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Women, like Forbes, represent 72 per cent of Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada. They’re your mothers, wives, sisters, grandmothers and friends, the national organization says.
On Tuesday, to kick off Alzheimer Awareness Month, the society launched its latest nationwide campaign – dubbed “The 72%.” It’s hoping to inform women in their 40s and older about the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and how the society can help.
“We’re focusing on women for a number of reasons: the vast majority of Canadians affected are women, women are the primary decision-makers about health care and medical matters when it comes to the family and we also know that women are living longer and therefore at a higher risk of getting the disease,” Mimi Lowi-Young, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, told Global News.
The 72 per cent is a strong statistic – while the organization’s previous surveys found that most Canadians know someone living with dementia, Lowi-Young is certain most people don’t know how prevalent the disease is amongst women.
Its impact on women is two-fold. Women also account for 70 per cent of family caregivers.
“With this campaign we’re making Alzheimer’s disease a women’s issue,” she said.
She says that women lead busy, multi-tasking lives – steady jobs, motherhood, and looking after parents – but they need to look out for the red flags.
Warning signs are often misunderstood or ignored. But if they’re addressed, getting an early diagnosis could be a game-changer.
For Forbes, she felt symptoms for years but brushed aside her concerns. She chalked up her forgetfulness and mental fogginess to aging, feeling tired or stressed.
Once she was handed her diagnosis, she connected the dots.
“The puzzle pieces started to fit together and the shock became relief. Now we had something to fight against, to make plans for and just prepare for,” Forbes said.
“The diagnosis can be very scary because all you ever see and hear about dementia and Alzheimer’s is the end stage of it where people aren’t talking, they aren’t functioning and they’re in a nursing home. That’s the picture in your head, but when you get an early diagnosis, life goes on. It’s a bump in the road, but you learn how to handle it,” she told Global News.
With a diagnosis in tow, Forbes learned more about the disease, how to create stability and routine to counter any symptoms and carry out her day-to-day activities smoothly.
Last year was a significant one for Canadian health officials: in the fall, Ottawa hosted the Canada-France Legacy event stemming from the world’s first G8 Dementia Summit in England.
The Canadian event brought academics and industry to work on finding a cure or disease-modifying drug by 2025.
By October, the federal government and its provincial health partners agreed to develop a national dementia strategy, a move Lowi-Young calls a “milestone.”
About 747,000 Canadians are living with some form of dementia and the society says this number is slated to double to 1.4 million in less than 20 years.
The risk of dementia doubles every five years after age 65. Common warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, impaired judgment, thinking or reasoning and changes in personality and behaviour that are out of character.
In addition to age, other risk factors include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking, the organization says.
It’s calling on women to visit the campaign website here: www.alzheimer.ca/the72percent.