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Women and Alzheimer’s Disease

May 29, 2014

By Editor
My mother had Alzheimer’s disease. My family and I think she first showed symptoms when she was 68 years old. A more accurate statement would be the indications became just too obvious to ignore. Research shows that Alzheimer’s begins its inexorable progress years, even decades before the symptoms come to the fore. Like many others with the disease, I’m sure Mom experienced some cognitive difficulties she kept to herself or allowed herself to accept.

The geographic distance between me, my siblings and my parents also didn’t help addressing the disease any sooner. We had all moved away from our hometown years ago, making it difficult to assess Mom’s situation until her behaviour changes and cognitive functioning could no longer by overlooked. Mom struggled with the disease for thirteen long years before finally succumbing to it.
A lot happened in Mom’s life during those thirteen years; my dad stepped up by taking over all the domestic chores including cooking (my dad cooking!), then when he passed away, we moved her from Thunder Bay to London.  Watching her fall away from us (and from her own self) was heart breaking. She didn’t know who I was in those last few years but at least (I think) she knew I was someone important to her. Many times visiting her, I would look at her while silently contemplating her situation. I took to visualizing what was going on in her brain as the diseased progressed and took her further and further away. That visualization took the form of a long hallway with many doors leading to unseen rooms and other destinations; I would see and hear those doors being closed - slamming shut actually - shutting off whatever was behind.

Fast forward six years from my mother’s death and ironically, I now work at the Alzheimer Society. I’ve learned that my mother’s experience was fairly typical (or as typical as an intensely personal disease like dementia can be). I’ve learned that understanding and acknowledging the disease is the most important and positive thing anyone can do. Early intervention can help gain as much control over the disease as possible; can help delay its progress and will help one live a fuller life with the disease.

I’ve also learned that this disease hits women the hardest - twice as many women as men are diagnosed. That may speak in part to a male’s reticence to be diagnosed, but it speaks mainly to women living longer. Women are also prone to risk factors such as heart disease and diabetes as well as hormonal changes. In fact Alzheimer Canada estimates that women account for 72 % of all Canadians living with Alzheimer’s today.
‘Living with’ is an important distinction as the disease impacts far more than just the person afflicted. Many women find themselves as caregivers for family members with the disease. According to the Canadian Caregiver Coalition, the majority of unpaid family caregivers are women. The physical, emotional and financial impact on the caregiver is enormous and women are bearing the brunt.
What can be done?

Whether a female or male, it’s vital to learn about the warning signs and learn about the risks. Talk to your doctor immediately and contact the Alzheimer Society London and Middlesex at 519-680-2404 or visit our website at www.alzheimerlondon.ca. There are many programs and services available for education, counselling, support and recreation for those with dementia in their lives.