WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 19: Bermuda’s growing number of dementia patients are to benefit from a newly formed charity.

Action on Alzheimer’s and Dementia (AAD) aims to raise awareness of the disease and provide help to patients and their families.

Bermudian Elizabeth Stewart founded the registered non-profit after the lack of help she received after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease eight years ago.

“I discovered Bermuda had little to nothing to offer in terms of information, support and practical help,” says Stewart whose mother Judith died in May this year.  It was a devastating diagnosis for everyone—especially for my mother, who felt very isolated and alone in her disease. I was on the web every day learning what I could about Alzheimer’s, what treatment my mother should be having to preserve her memory as long as possible, and what we could do on a daily basis to help her. It was steep, emotionally-taxing learning curve that our family meandered through.”

Ms Stewart hopes AAD will be able to help other families trying to cope with the disease, and also educate medical professionals, caregivers, nursing homes and other health services in Bermuda about the best care and treatment practices for surging numbers of dementia patients.

Alzheimer’s is one of numerous types of dementia, and one of the most common. This progressive disease destroys areas of the brain. It causes memory loss, confusion, and eventual loss of speech, understanding and movement.

While most cases of Alzheimer’s develop after age 65, so-called ‘early-onset’ Alzheimer’s can be diagnosed in people as young as 30. There is no cure, but studies indicate that drugs can help slow its progression.

“I had this overwhelming feeling that more had to be done to help those with dementia and their family, and that public awareness of this global problem needs to be raised,” said Ms Stewart.

As the international community marked World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21, Stewart is speaking out to raise public awareness about the disease and other dementias.

“I stress the word disease because it doesn’t seem to get recognised like cancer, heart disease and diabetes,” she said.

“Yet, every four seconds, someone worldwide is diagnosed with dementia. Thirteen per cent of individuals age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease and after age 65, the odds of a person having Alzheimer’s double approximately every five years—to 50 per cent when an individual reaches the age of 85.”

The cost of caring for a person with dementia is four times that of looking after a patient with cancer or heart disease she said and dementia research is underfunded.

“Alzheimer’s disease and others dementias are rarely talked about in Bermuda—yet it is a big problem that is only getting worse as our population ages.

“It needs to be understood, treated and get the same recognition and support as other diseases on this island. We have to think about who is going to care for individuals with dementia, where they are going to live, who is going to finance their care. The reality we need to face is that one in four of us will have dementia by the time we are 80 and these are important questions that need answers.”