Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

The Canadian demographic landscape is rapidly shifting as baby boomers and older seniors lead the way in breaking the longevity mold. With increased life expectancy come challenges specific to aging.

There are approximately 500,000 Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia (of which 50,000 are under the age of 60). It is expected that within a generation as Boomers age, this number will rise to 1 to 1.3 million. Women comprise almost 75% of Canadians with Alzheimer's disease.1

What is dementia?

People often equate memory loss alone with dementia. But dementia is actually used to describe a group of symptoms that affect a person’s intellectual and social abilities to function in their daily lives. It is not a normal part of aging and there are different types of dementia. A person diagnosed with dementia has difficulties in at least two aspects of brain function that can include memory loss, impaired insight and judgement, and language. Personality and behaviour changes can also occur.2 

Alzheimer’s symptoms

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common dementia and in its early stages can be difficult to recognize. It is a progressive and fatal disease as brain cells break down and die. Current statistics suggest that nearly 50% of adults over the age of 85 may have this disease.

Alzheimer’s disease involves:

  • impaired thinking and reasoning,
  • difficulty understanding abstract concepts like numbers,
  • impaired orientation and spatial relations (lose understanding of time and place),
  • difficulty planning and performing familiar tasks,
  • difficulty speaking and writing. 

This is not only a disease that affects the mind.

Physical changes over time include:

  • loss of balance,
  • decreased mobility,
  • incontinence,
  • difficulty swallowing.

There is no cure for this devastating disease. Life expectancy can range from six to eight years after diagnosis to 20 years.2

Obstacles

Consider the financial obstacles that Alzheimer’s disease can pose.

Memory loss.  Bills including insurance premiums need to be paid.  Important documents must be protected and safely stored in a place that is remembered. Otherwise, they may be at risk of getting lost or thrown away. Various appointments, financial decisions that need action or passwords may be forgotten.

Abstract concepts.  Managing finances requires sophisticated abstract thinking. Imagine not understanding concepts such as: numbers, basic math calculations, percentage, rate of return, compound interest and the value of money (knowing the difference between 5¢, $50 and $5,000).

Familiar tasks.  Writing a cheque or doing on-line financial transactions requires performing a series of actions done in a specific sequence. 

Impaired Insight and Judgement.  There can be serious consequences if your parent does not understand financial decisions or actions and if she/he is no longer capable of making financial and personal care decisions.

Cost of care.  As cognitive and physical abilities decline over time, care is needed. Strategies to approach your parent’s immediate and future care needs are essential. The potential financial, physical and emotional toll on caregivers cannot be ignored.

Financial abuse and neglect.  Older seniors can be at risk. People living with dementia can be at additional risk, as they may not have the insight to recognize abuse.

Talking to your Advisor is an important step in addressing the range of issues that you or an older family member may face when changes in health occur or are anticipated. Are your Powers of Attorney (POA) for property and personal care along with a Will in place and up to date? These are legal decisions that require cognitive capacity. Have the designated POA’s and Executors been introduced to the Advisor in advance of any need? Have you had conversations about anticipated care costs?

Additional Resources:

Talking to your Advisor is an important step in addressing the range of issues that you or an older family member may face when changes in health occur or are anticipated. Are your Powers of Attorney (POA) for property and personal care along with a Will in place and up to date? These are legal decisions that require cognitive capacity. Have the designated POA’s and Executors been introduced to the Advisor in advance of any need? Have you had conversations about anticipated care costs?
Talking to your Advisor is an important step in addressing the range of issues that you or an older family member may face when changes in health occur or are anticipated. Are your Powers of Attorney (POA) for property and personal care along with a Will in place and up to date? These are legal decisions that require cognitive capacity. Have the designated POA’s and Executors been introduced to the Advisor in advance of any need? Have you had conversations about anticipated care costs?
Talking to your Advisor is an important step in addressing the range of issues that you or an older family member may face when changes in health occur or are anticipated. Are your Powers of Attorney (POA) for property and personal care along with a Will in place and up to date? These are legal decisions that require cognitive capacity. Have the designated POA’s and Executors been introduced to the Advisor in advance of any need? Have you had conversations about anticipated care costs?


If you have care concerns regarding a parent or yourself, please call me. I am here to help you assess your specific situation, provide direction and put appropriate plans in place.

1Rising Tide – The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society. Alzheimer Society of Canada

2Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2011).

This article is a basic overview of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Diagnosing a person with dementia requires a variety of medical tests and neuropsychological assessments conducted over time. Certain conditions may have similarities to dementia and therefore one should exercise caution in identifying a person as having dementia.

Debbie Gilbert is a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging in private practice and the Founder of Generations (www.debbiegilbert.ca). With a focus on eldercare, self-care and care for the caregiver, Debbie works with Baby Boomers and older seniors walking the care years.  The following article does not replace medical care or advice, financial and/or legal advice and is not intended to do so. © Debbie Gilbert July 15, 2013.