Gerald Chenier considers himself one of the “lucky ones.”
In 2009, the 65-year-old retired teacher was diagnosed with vascular dementia.
The condition is one of the most common forms of dementia, ranking only second to Alzheimer’s disease. It is characterized by memory loss and confusion.
“I say to people that I'm not very lucky at lotto, but I'm very lucky to have been diagnosed,” he said.
While many would consider the diagnosis a cruel twist of fate, Chenier said he thinks he's lucky because the condition was caught early.
As such, he has been able to take medication which stabilizes his condition, as well as receive support from the Alzheimer Society Sudbury-Manitoulin.
Chenier spoke to Northern Life recently as part of the Alzheimer Society's “Let's face it!” campaign, which advocates for early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.
He is one of the spokespeople for the campaign, appearing in an ad and sharing his story in French in a YouTube video.
The Let's Face it! campaign is being run during January, which is Alzheimer's Awareness Month.
Chenier said he first realized something was wrong when he started forgetting little things.
“I used to put my coffee creamer in the cupboard instead of the fridge,” he said. “One day, I tried to find my phone, and I couldn't. I hit the buzzer, and found it under my bed.”
During a routine physical exam at his family doctor's office, he mentioned his memory problems.
I said to myself, hey, you haven't got cancer and you haven't had a heart attack — wake up.
diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2009
His doctor booked him an appointment with the Alzheimer Society Sudbury-Manitoulin, and he was screened for dementia. A subsequent MRI revealed he had vascular dementia.
“From there, when I got the results, I really cried,” Chenier said. “Then I said to myself, hey, you haven't got cancer and you haven't had a heart attack — wake up.”
He began volunteering once a week in the Alzheimer Society Sudbury-Manitoulin's day program, which provides care in a safe environment for older adults with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, something he said he enjoys.
Chenier said he wishes other people having memory problems wouldn't be afraid to ask their doctors about it.
“One lady asked me the other day at the gym 'Does it hurt to get the test?” he said. I asked her 'What do you mean?' She asked 'Do they have to pick you and get a blood sample?' All you have to do is see a doctor, and they'll refer you.”
According to the results of a survey released recently by the Alzheimer Society, people are waiting a long time to talk to their doctors about experiencing the symptoms of dementia.
The survey, conducted by the organization this past fall, polled 958 Canadians — mostly caregivers — about their experiences with dementia.
It shows close to 50 per cent of Canadians lived a year or more with their symptoms before seeing a family doctor. Of these, 16 per cent waited more than two years.
Lorraine LeBlanc, executive director of the Alzheimer Society Sudbury-Manitoulin, enjoys a cup of coffee with Gerald Chenier. Chenier said he's lucky to have received an early diagnosis for vascular dementia. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.
It also revealed that the most common reason for the delay (53 per cent) was the belief that the symptoms were part of "old age" and would eventually go away.
Another 39 per cent said their symptoms were episodic or didn't take them seriously enough. More than a quarter either refused to see a doctor or saw no need to go unless symptoms grew worse.
However, three-quarters of respondents admitted that they wished they had sought a diagnosis sooner to have access to treatments to manage symptoms.
“There's some very important reasons to receive an early diagnosis,” Lorraine LeBlanc, executive director of the Alzheimer Society Sudbury-Manitoulin, said.
“Those reasons may be accessing more education or strategies to cope with the illness, assisting family caregivers in getting that support that's needed and accessing medications.”
Receiving help early on also ensures families are able to plan how they're going to care for the individual with dementia in the future.
“The more you understand about the illness, the more you can put into place services and support systems,” she said. “Those steps are very important.”
For more information about the Let's face it! campaign, visit www.alzheimerletsfaceit.ca.
10 warning signs for Alzheimer's disease or related dementias
1. Memory loss that affects day-today function
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks
3. Problems with language
4. Disorientation of time and place
5. Poor or decreased judgement
6. Problems with abstract thinking
7. Misplacing things
8. Changes in mood or behaviour
9. Changes in personality
10. Loss of initiative
Posted by Arron Pickard