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DEMENTIA: THE IMPORTANCE OF EARLY DETECTION By Dr. Jim Perretta

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DEMENTIA: THE IMPORTANCE OF EARLY DETECTION By Dr. Jim Perretta

Published November 22nd, 2016

The population in Canada is rapidly aging. The first wave of Baby Boomers turned 65 in 2011. Canadians are living longer and they deserve to optimize their quality of life as long as possible.

Some troubling statistics were found in a recent study by the Alzheimer Society of Canada - “Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society”. Roughly 500,000 Canadians over 65 have dementia (that is, 1 in 11 senior citizens). Moreover, 71,000 of Canadians under 65 have dementia. If no cure is found, over 1 million Canadians will have dementia by 2031.

Dementia is often misunderstood and under-detected. Dementia is not “normal aging”. Here is a list of some common “warning signs” for dementia:

Memory loss affecting your day-to-day abilities (e.g. banking, cooking)

Difficulty performing familiar tasks

Misplacing items often

Problems with language (e.g. words on the “tip of your tongue” often)

Changes in your personality, mood, or behavior (e.g. lack of drive or motivation; more irritable and short-tempered)

Early diagnosis and treatment is extremely important. If detected early, clients and families can gain more timely access to various treatment options (pharmacological and non-pharmacological) and community resources. The main goals are to optimize function as long as possible, slow down the rate of cognitive decline, and plan for the future.

Many family doctors (and other healthcare professionals) perform quick screening tests for dementia. These 5-to-10 minute tests can raise some “red flags” about short-term memory problems and disorientation. However, these tests do not provide norms for a given person’s age. Norms are important because they show how the majority of people in a given age group perform on a selected test. For example, a 90 year old may have more difficulty than a 60 year old on a given test, but she may still be in the “normal range” for her age group.

A neuropsychological assessment provides an in-depth examination of a person’s cognitive skills in multiple areas, such as attention, memory and learning, speed of processing, word-finding, verbal fluency, and multi-tasking. Careful interpretation of these tests is based on your age and educational background. If a diagnosis of dementia is suspected, detailed feedback could be arranged with you, your family members, and your family physician (you are in charge of choosing with whom you would like to share your health information). A neuropsychologist could also help you and your family to optimize your quality of life by helping you to build on your strengths and cope with your challenges. Communicating with your family doctor will ensure that other causes for memory loss have been ruled-out (e.g. thyroid disease; Vitamin B12 deficiency; medication side-effects).

If you are showing any of the warning signs listed above, call Guelph Psychology Centre to book an appointment -  519-265-6960. It is important to note that sometimes a family member may notice these warning signs in you even before you do – please try to listen to them and trust their concerns. An assessment could help to identify if you are showing “normal aging” or perhaps early signs of dementia. Either way, the results could be useful.

For more information on dementia, please consult the website for the Alzheimer Society of Ontario – http://www.alzheimer.ca/

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Dr. Jim Peretta is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist who treats adults and seniors at the Guelph Psychology Centre.


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