Alzheimer’s awareness month sheds light on southern Alberta supports

Click to play video: 'Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: How to get support in southern Alberta'
Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: How to get support in southern Alberta
January is dedicated as a month of awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Eloise Therien hears from those affected by the disease, and finds out more on what resources are available in the southern Alberta region. – Jan 12, 2023

According to the Alzheimer Society, the number of people living with dementia in Alberta is expected to more than double by the year 2050.

“Current trends indicate an increase of 148,900 cases of dementia in Alberta by 2050. This is a 286 per cent increase from 2020 estimates of dementia in the province,” the society said, referencing a landmark study.

It said more than 50,000 Albertans are currently living with dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common type.

Not every case of dementia is considered Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that destroys brain cells, causing thinking ability and memory to deteriorate over time, whereas dementia is an overarching term to describe a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain.

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It’s estimated more than half those with a diagnosis in Alberta are female, including Chris Buckingham’s wife.

“As it happened to me, Shirly was getting Alzheimer’s without me or anybody even noticing,” he said.

Finding out his wife of 50 years had Alzheimer’s disease happened several years ago, after instances like a simple trip to her dentist appointment went awry.

“(We’d been) going to the dentist… for 45 years,” Chris explained “She got back and I said ‘How did it go?” she says, ‘I couldn’t find it. I was 15 minutes late.’

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Shirly is now in long-term care in another town, with Chris visiting from Lethbridge. He tries to enjoy the small wins he experiences with her, even if it can be difficult.

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“It’s no use getting all upset about it,” he said.

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“When I visit Shirly and ask her a question, she might just look at me. And then I can leave it for a while, ask her the same question but a little differently and I might get an answer.”

January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and Colleen Beck, a navigator in client services with the Lethbridge office of the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories, wants the public to know there are plenty of supports available for people in southern Alberta.

She helps run care partner support groups, which went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chris looks forward to attending in-person again in the near future.

“Bringing people that are on this journey — the care partner specifically — they get to come into a space that is not only safe and confidential, they really get to tell others what they’re going through,” Beck said.

She added their FirstLink services helps people to “navigate (the) twists and turns of the dementia Alzheimer’s journey.”

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The Chinook Arch Regional Library System, which includes both Lethbridge Public Library branches, has additional tools in the form of memory kits, which have been in stock for around four years for patrons to borrow out.

“The memory kits are a specific type of resource that is designed to allow families to connect with their loved ones that are living with dementia, and just to have something to talk about,” explained CEO Robin Hepher.

Click to play video: 'Alzheimer’s Awareness Month'
Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

He said the demand has grown, growing from ten kits to 66 throughout libraries in the region.

“Some of them are about a specific era,” Hepher explained “So there’s a kit about the ’50s and there’s a kit about growing up in the depression, and there’s kits that are themed around seasons or other kinds of major historical events.”

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There is currently no confirmed cause or cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but research is being conducted at several post-secondary institutions including the University of Lethbridge.

Those in need of support can contact the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories at 1-866-950-5465 or visit their website.

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