Advance care planning and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia: don’t wait to have the conversation

Next to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease is the disease we fear the most. Canadians over 55 believe it’s the worst thing that can happen to their health.

There are an estimated 500,000 cases of Alzheimer’s in Canada- and that number is expected to double over the next quarter century as our population ages. We don’t have a cure, and we don’t know as much as we should about this insidious disease. But we do know that it has a significant impacts on both the person with dementia – and family or friends who take on increasingly larger role as the disease progresses.

One of the most common results of Alzheimer’s is the loss of speech and memory – robbing people living with the disease of the ability to remember past events and communicate effectively with those around them.

It’s always important to advance care plan including choosing a substitute decision maker to speak on your behalf if you are not able to do so for yourself – but a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another dementia makes it even more critical. By having clear, honest discussions about fears, values and wishes early when symptoms are still mild, people living with dementia can help inform future heath care choices if they are not able to make those choices themselves. In turn, family and friends who may be asked to make health care choices as substitute decision makers will have the information they need to feel confident that those choices would have been what their family member or friend would have wanted.

An advance care plan is always a gift to family and friends during a difficult time – but for those who face an uncertain future with Alzheimer’s, these conversations offer peace of mind during an increasingly uncertain time. Don’t wait – speak up and start the conversation with family and friends today. You – and they – will be glad you did.

Kathy Hickman

Education Manager,
Alzheimer Society of Ontario
and
Knowledge Broker,
Alzheimer Knowledge Exchange