“LifeLines is a monthly column dedicated to addressing issues of mental, behavioural, and social health. The column is written by professionals in the field of social work, mental health, and community medicine“.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive degenerative brain syndrome that affects memory, thinking and behavior. The main risk factor for the disease is age. Persons aged sixty five (65) years and older are at greater risk for this condition than are younger persons. However, the disease can also affect persons at an earlier age, as we see depicted in the now popular film ‘Still Alice’. In that film, a fifty (50) year old professional woman is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The film shows her deterioration over a few years and details the impact of the disease on her family. Early-onset dementia represents only about five percent (5%) of cases of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting people worldwide. It represents 60 -70 % of all dementias. The term ‘dementia’ is used to describe any condition that causes deterioration of a variety of different brain functions over time, such as memory, thinking, recognition, language, planning and personality. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, dementia, fronto-temporal dementia and Lewy bodies dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease knows no social, economic, ethnic or geographical boundaries. Women are more likely to be affected. This is believed to be so because women generally have a greater life expectancy than men.
For most cases of dementia, there is no cure at this time, although research is ongoing. However there is much help and some treatments available.
When we discuss Alzheimer’s disease, one of the commonest questions we encounter from the audience is: What are the symptoms of this condition? The ten (10) early symptoms of the condition are as follows:
Memory loss that disrupts daily life
Difficulty performing familiar tasks
Problems with language
Disorientation to time and place
Poor or decreased judgment
Problems with keeping track of things
Changes in moods or behaviour
Changes in personality
Loss of initiative
A proper and early diagnosis is extremely important, as all memory loss is not Alzheimer’s disease. For example, depression and some other medical problems might be mistaken and labeled as Alzheimer’s disease. A person who suspects that this problem is developing should discuss his/her concern with relatives, and seek an early diagnosis from a physician who is familiar with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Because age is such an important risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, it is anticipated that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease will increase with the increased life expectancy of the population in the Caribbean (St. Kitts and Nevis included). At present, life expectancy for males in St Kitts is seventy-two (72) years for men and seventy-seven (77) years for women.
This is a significant increase over what it would have been sixty (60) years ago, when life expectancy was barely sixty years (60) for these islands.
The Alzheimer’s Association of St. Kitts and Nevis
The Alzheimer’s Association of St. Kitts and Nevis came into being in 2014 after Dr. Joan Rawlins, who had had experience with such Associations abroad, had discussions with persons from the Moravian Seniors Club (MRC) and the Ripple Institute. She then made a presentation to the regular meeting of the Moravian Senior’s club on June 3rd, 2014. The presentation was entitled ‘Alzheimer’s disease: Social and Health Issues for the Society’. Following that presentation, thirty (30) persons immediately signed up to become members of the Alzheimer’s Association. The Founding members therefore were drawn from the membership of the Moravian Seniors Club and the Ripple Institute (St Kitts). The Association held its first regular meeting in July 2014.
The stated mission of the Alzheimer’s Association of St. Kitts and Nevis is to improve the quality of life of persons affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and to provide support to their care-givers. In so doing, the Association seeks to raise awareness about the disease; to establish a national family/care-giver support group; to educate family, patients and caregivers about the disease and to encourage government to implement policies to improve the lives of persons with dementia, their families and caregivers.
The Association is affiliated with Alzheimer’s disease International (ADI). ADI is the International Federation of Alzheimer’s Disease Organizations worldwide. At present, there are eighty five (85) such association registered with ADI.
Here in St. Kitts, the Alzheimer’s Association meets on the third (3rd) Monday of each month. The meetings are held at the Girl Guides Headquarters in Taylor’s Range. The meetings take the form of lectures and discussion of best practices about the care of person with dementias. The Association is open to any person who has an interest in the condition. Persons who have relatives and friends with the disease are also encouraged to attend. It is a great learning opportunity and free of cost to persons who wish to learn more, in order to help others who might have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
The biggest awareness events which the Association holds each year (besides the monthly meetings) are the activities held for World Alzheimer’s Month/Day in September. The Association has so far celebrated World Alzheimer’s Month here in St. Kitts in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Theme for World Alzheimer’s Month in 2015 and again in 2016 was “Remember me”. In the time that the Association has been in existence, it has held outreach initiatives to organizations such as the Rotary Clubs of St. Kitts and Nevis. Presentations have been made to these clubs in an effort to create greater awareness of the disease and to seek assistance with fund raising. The Association also makes presentations on a regular basis to community organizations, radio, TV and churches groups on request.
The organization is guided by an enthusiastic executive board, which is mindful that more families are recognizing that their relatives are developing or have one form or the other of dementia. These persons have responded, as volunteers, to help to improve the lives of persons with dementia and to give support to the care givers. Care-giving for persons with dementia can be very difficult and stressful, and so the Alzheimer’s Association stands ready as an NGO, to provide the necessary social and emotional support.
At present, the absolute prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is not known in St. Kitts and Nevis. This means that there is an urgent need for a Prevalence Study. Hopefully, this will be done in the near future. Such a study will provide data which will give a clearer picture of the proportion of older persons in the society who are so afflicted. From their various studies in developing countries, Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), estimates that only 1:10 of those affected with the condition in developing countries actually receive the appropriate diagnosis.
Dr. Joan Rawlins
Founder and President
Alzheimer’s Association of St. Kitts and Nevis
Alzheimer’s disease International (2015) “Can we reduce the Risk”. www.alz.co.uk.
Smith, Glen E. (2016) “Early – onset Alzheimer’s: When Symptoms begin before age 65”. www.mayoclinic.org/disease-condition/alzheimer’s.