Alzheimer’s Disease 

By: Dr. Peggy Malone

I have spent a great weekend in California at the Video Impact Academy with some amazing mentors, coaches and business owners learning about shooting more professional videos.  I’m a catching my flight home early tomorrow and once I get home and get back to work I want to share some of what I have learned so stay tuned for that!

In the meantime, let’s get to the content on this week’s episode of my television show.  

On this week’s episode of my television show ‘Living Well’, I chatted with Wendy Francis from the Alzheimer’s Society of Elgin and St. Thomas.  I also talked to local health care provider Nancy Whittingham who has had some personal challenges that have inspired her to be a groundbreaker in the field of eldercare in St. Thomas and Elgin County and beyond.

Both of these women shared some amazing information that will help you to make better decisions, offer better support and take care of your loved ones and yourself through the aging process.

There is such amazing content from this episode that we are going to do this in two parts.  I will share Wendy’s great information on Alzheimer’s Disease and Senile Dementia today and look for Nancy’s information on Thursday!



What is the difference between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?

Alzheimer’s Disease is one type of dementia. It is the most prevalent form of dementia but dementia means a problem with memory and thinking which can be caused by a variety of causes such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body disease, and Pick’s disease.

If I’m having memory problems, does that mean I have Alzheimer’s Disease?

Having just memory problems could be caused by a number of different factors such as a medication side-effects, health issues such as infections, depression, anxiety, or stress. Having Alzheimer’s Disease involves more than just memory problems.  There are also problems with thinking, judgement, language, orientation, and behaviour – the Alzheimer’s Society tries to educate the public about the “10 warning signs” of Alzheimer’s Disease which are:  Memory loss that affects day-to-day abilities; Difficulty performing familiar tasks; problems with language; disorientation in time and space; poor or decreased judgment; problems with abstract thinking; misplacing things; changes in mood and behaviour; changes in personality; loss of initiative

What are the risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s Disease?

Early onset, or Familial Alzheimer’s Disease is a rarer form of Alzheimer’s (about 5%) that occurs in younger individuals, typically in their 40’s or 50’s.  This form of Alzheimer’s has a strong genetic component and if a parent has this type of dementia, you have a 50% chance of developing it as well.  The more common type of Alzheimer’s that occurs in the elderly does not have the same strong genetic component, however if a parent or sibling has this type of Alzheimer’s it is believed that you have a 3x greater chance of developing the disease.  For this type of Alzheimer’s, age is the greatest risk factor. Other risk factors include heart disease, diabetes, head injury, stroke, obesity and high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

What are the causes of Alzheimer ‘s Disease?

Researchers are still puzzled by this disease and research efforts are ongoing.  It is basically caused by nerve cells that die in the brain due to abnormal changes in the brain.  Exactly what makes those abnormal changes is still a bit of a mystery.  However, one of these abnormal changes is thought to be caused by plaque deposits in the brain (made of a protein called beta amyloid) and tangles in the nerve fibres that impair the brain from working properly.  However, the brains of some elderly people have been found to have plaque deposits as well, but there was no dementia evident in their lifetime.  So, researchers feel there are several factors that come together to create the disease, although we are unclear at this point what those several factors are.

What is the process of getting a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease?

You need to be assessed by your Family Physician who should do a thorough medical workup to ensure that your memory loss or cognitive problem is not attributed to any medical issue such as infection, low B-12 levels,  etc.  Once those issues have been ruled out, cognitive testing would need to be administered to determine the extent of your memory and thinking problems.  The family physician may administer this, or if they do not feel comfortable doing so, they may refer you to a geriatric specialist.  In order to make a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, your scores on the cognitive testing would need to fall within a certain range, but your functional ability to do day-to-day activities has to be impaired as well.  Also because Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive condition there should be a worsening of symptoms over time.  

What treatments are available for Alzheimer’s Disease?

As of yet, there is no cure, but, there is much research occurring as researchers try to understand the disease.  There are several drugs on the market currently that are helpful in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.  These drugs will not cure the disease, but they may slow down the progression of the disease so that your quality of life is improved during the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  It has also been shown to be beneficial to keep your brain active by doing crossword puzzles, brain teasers, being socially active, anything that will stimulate the brain.   As Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, behavioural changes may occur that require family and friends to adapt their way of interacting with the person with the disease to avoid upsetting and agitating the person.   These strategies are learned, either the hard way by trial and error, or through somewhere like the Alzheimer Society.

What supports are available in St. Thomas and Elgin County?

We, at the Alzheimer’s Society, are a great resource to persons with the disease and to their families and caregivers involved.  We will come out to see you in your home to provide support and education about the disease, we have many books and videos in the office that you can borrow to help you learn and cope with the disease.  We offer structured learning series in a group setting that people can attend, we have Caregiver support groups in 3 locations (St. Thomas, Aylmer and Dutton) where caregivers can get together to talk and share ideas .  We also are starting monthly Drop-in information  sessions at  the St. Thomas Seniors Centre for individuals wanting more information about  the disease.  We also have a website where you can access information.  VON offers a volunteer visiting service to persons who have dementia and there are also Adult Day programs which are recreational programs designed for persons with dementia in various Long term care homes in St. Thomas and Elgin County.

Just like in any area of health and wellness, the more you know, the more you can know what to expect.  This is relevant for everyone as we age and as our older relatives age.  If you are worried about Alzheimer’s Disease for yourself or for a relative, I hope that you have found some great information that can help you on this journey.




Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. Her weekly Television Series 'Living Well" inspires people from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.

A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.

Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.

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