Monday, 23 February 2015

Living with Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's is a disease that you may be aware of only peripherally unless it has touched your family or friends. The following are the statistics from the Alzheimer's Society of Canada website:

  • In 2011, 747,000 Canadians were living with cognitive impairment, including dementia (approximately 15% of Canadians 65 and older).
  • By 2031, if nothing changes in Canada, this figure will increase to 1.4 million.

 Researchers are still uncertain as to the exact effect of Alzheimer's disease on the brain, although they do know that cells are damaged and eventually die in different areas of the brain. The death of brain cells leads to dementia, characterized by memory loss, impaired judgment, and behavioral changes.
Although no one knows the exact cause of the disease, there are a number of risk factors that have been identified such as head injury, vascular disease, and gender. For example, women are twice as likely as men to develop the disease.

There are ten major warning signs of the disease:
  1.  memory loss that affects day-to-day function
  2. difficulty performing familiar tasks
  3.  problems with language
  4.  disorientation of time and place
  5.  poor or decreased judgment
  6.  problems with abstract thinking
  7.  misplacing things
  8.  changes in mood and behavior
  9.  changes in personality
  10.  loss of initiative  

It's important to note that there are major differences between symptoms of Alzheimer's and signs of normal aging:

Normal Aging 
Not being able to remember details of a conversation or event that took place a year ago  Not being able to recall details of recent events or conversations 
Not being able to remember the name of an acquaintance  Not recognizing or knowing the names of family members
Forgetting things and events occasionally  Forgetting things or events more frequently 
Occasionally have difficulty finding words  Frequent pauses and substitutions when finding words 
You are worried about your memory but your relatives are not Your relatives are worried about your memory, but you are not aware of any problems

 At this time, there is no treatment to delay, cure, or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Approved drugs temporarily slow the worsening of symptoms for about six to twelve months, on average, for about half of the individuals who take them.

It is vital for family members who are caregivers of persons living with Alzheimer's to seek help-- without guilt--to cope with the disease and to safeguard their own physical and mental health.

There are multiple resources and support groups.  For a list of Canadian web resources, see Alzheimer's Society of Canada also has a list of provincial societies:

In the United States, please see the Alzheimer's Foundation of America's site at

In the United Kingdom, please see the Alzheimer's Research UK site at 

Please remember that exercise, healthy eating, and brain boosters such as crossword puzzles and computer games can help in keeping your brain healthy. For more information, visit

Monday, 16 February 2015

Irish Crime Fiction: Moving into the Mainstream

It's refreshing to note that crime fiction is gradually being accepted into the mainstream of literature, and is hopefully shedding its image as "genre" fiction and therefore a poor cousin to "literary" works.

Trinity College in Dublin is now offering a course on Irish crime fiction writers, and if you enjoy Irish crime fiction you'll recognize many of the authors: Tana French, Arlene Hunt, Eoin McNamee, Stuart Neville, Declan Hughes, Benjamin Black, and John Connelly, among others.

The course syllabus indicates that Irish crime fiction is "perhaps the fastest growing area of contemporary Irish literature".

For more information, including the course syllabus, please see Declan Burke's post on Crime Always Pays.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Let's Talk--About Better Assistance on University Campuses

Each year I do a post on Bell's Let Talk Day with the goal of helping to publicize the need for talking openly and ending the stigma of mental illness.

However, a recent incident involving a student in resident at a Canadian university might have the unfortunate effect of discouraging young people from coming forward in search of assistance when they urgently need it.

This student's appeal for help to cope with his depression and suicidal thoughts ended in a demand that he leave the university's residence before he even had a chance to meet with a mental health counsellor.

The day before he was to attend a counselling session on campus, he was advised by university officials that he had to immediately vacate his room because he posed a risk to other students. If he did commit suicide, this would adversely affect the mental health of the other students in residence. His mother was called to come pick him up. He could attend classes, they said, but he couldn't stay in residence.

According to a university spokesperson:

There has never been a case [here] where a student has been removed from residence for the sole reason that they have threatened self-harm. We simply would not do that. . . . There have been times, though, where the special needs of an individual have exceeded the university's capacity to provide the adequate and necessary support for their own safety and well-being, as well as supporting and protecting others who are in close proximity or have direct contact with the individual.

This story clearly underlines the necessity to talk openly about our universities' "capacity to provide the adequate and necessary support" to young people in urgent need of help at a very vulnerable time in their lives. While money is hard to come by all around, and budgets are constantly under scrutiny in every organization, universities included, I would suggest that the mental health and well-being of the young people in their charge--many living away from home for the first time--should be considered a very high priority rather than something for which "adequate" is a target not always attained.

Our youth need to feel it's permissible to ask for help when they're struggling with depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental distress. The last thing they need is the unspoken message that they're only going to "cause trouble" for their school and themselves if they do find the courage to come forward.

Our institutions need to change their priorities and do a much, much better job of listening and helping whenever someone within their walls reaches out to them in times of need.

For the CBC story, please click here.

Monday, 2 February 2015

The Day After

As you are reading this, the 49th Super Bowl is history, and your team has either won or lost. About all that's left to determine is who had the best Super Bowl ad.

Of course, that won't stop you from debating who showed up for their A-game and who stank; which calls from the officials were dead wrong; and what coaching moves should have been second-guessed. Ah, nothing like the Monday morning quarterback.

If you're a die-hard fan, you're already looking forward to the 2015 NFL scouting combine, which will be held February 17-23, and the draft itself which has a new venue and airs from Chicago on April 30 - May 2.

And for those of you whose team didn't make it to the Super Bowl, remember--there's always next year.