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Health-care professionals promote early diagnosis of dementia

SYDNEY — People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related illnesses need to start planning immediately and make their wishes known to family members before the debilitating illness takes hold.

Cape Breton District Health Authority geriatrician Dr. Paula Creighton said not enough people treat dementia as a terminal illness early on during initial diagnosis.

“If you are a person who doesn’t want to be dependent in any way, well as they journey through when they get other illnesses that surface, because other things will happen to you, you’ll be in a better position to ask the people in front of you, ‘What are you really offering me?’” said Creighton, in her office at the Glace Bay Hospital.

She said health troubles such as heart disease, stroke, kidney, or bowel obstruction arise with old age, it’s an individual decision whether to go through the necessary surgery or treatment regime, or seek the alternative: palliative care.

“We see a lot of people after the fact … and they see geriatricians, and people often tell us, ‘My God, if we had known what you’re telling us now back then, we wouldn’t have gone through the procedure.’”

According to information provided by the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia, as many as 50 per cent of Canadians living with dementia are not being diagnosed early enough.

Nova Scotia has the oldest population per capita in the country, with about 17.7 per cent of people aged 65 or older.

The provincial government announced Monday it intends to create a provincial dementia strategy and to “review and refocus” its continuing care strategy.

Creighton said dementia was one component missing from the strategy.

Lobbying by Doctors Nova Scotia helped to bring this issue to the attention of legislators, she said.

The dementia strategy won’t be announced until the spring of 2015.

Earlier diagnosis opens the door to important information, resources and support, said Catherine Shepherd, the co-ordinator of education and outreach in Cape Breton for the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia.

She said this helps people remain independent in their homes longer.

“For a lot of people, getting out and talking with other people, and hearing that others are having the same issues that they are really helps,” she said.

There are seven dementia support groups in Cape Breton and a six-week family caregiver series that offers a spouse and children more information on the disease.

Shepherd said learning more about dementia can help reduce the stigma and fear associated with the disease and encourage early diagnosis.

On Wednesday, the sixth annual Research Breakfast will focus on the signs of dementia. It will take place at Centre 200 in Sydney at 7:30 a.m.

Speakers include Dr. Jeanne Ferguson of the Cape Breton District Health Authority and Eileen McIntyre, a caregiver who will share her experiences.

The event acts as a fundraiser for the Alzheimer society’s education and support programs in Cape Breton.

For more information call 1-800-611-6345, or visit

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