In 2016, my grandfather was diagnosed with early-onset dementia. At first, he would forget things like where he put his keys, forget to turn the tap off and forget what he was about to say. As time moved on, his illness progressively got worst. During conversations, he began asking the same questions repeatedly. It was as if his memory was on a continual loop. As his illness progressed further, it eventually got to a point where my grandmother had to put measures in place to keep him from fleeing the apartment in the middle of the night. One night in early November, he escaped the apartment, fell and was picked up by the police and taken to hospital. Soon after, my grandfather was sent to long-term care. For many caring for a loved one with dementia, this story is all too common. Though my grandfather was well into his 80s, dementia isn’t a normal part of aging, and it doesn’t just affect older adults. While what causes dementia is relatively unknown, researchers believe that neurodegenerative diseases, vascular diseases, head injuries and other risk factors can increase the chance of dementia. 1
A group of researchers from the Ottawa Hospital, the University of Ottawa, the Bruyère Research Institute and ICES have created the Dementia Calculator, the first tool intended for predicting dementia at the population level. Dr. Stacey Fisher led the development of the prediction algorithm while completing her doctoral degree at the University of Ottawa. The Dementia Population Risk Tool (DemPoRT) is the algorithm that powers the Project Big Life Dementia Calculator and can predict a person’s five-year risk of being diagnosed with dementia for individuals who are 55 years of age or older and living in the community. 2
Dementia isn’t one specific disease, it is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms that affects brain function, language, mood and behaviour. It is a chronic and progressive condition that can increasingly interfere with activities of daily living. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), more than 432,000 Canadians 65 years of age and older live with diagnosed dementia. Of those affected, two-thirds are women. 3
Based on data of 75,000 Ontarians aged 55 years and older, the DemPoRT algorithm was developed using Ontario respondents to the Canadian Community Health Survey to determine five-year risk of dementia. 4 The algorithm looks at several lifestyle factors such as age, smoking status, alcohol consumption, physical exercise, health conditions, languages spoken, and marital status. 5
In September of 2019, I had the opportunity to spend one last time with my grandfather before he passed and introduce him to his great-grandson, who shares his name. It will be a moment that I will forever cherish and hope to remember. Though I’ll never know whether he knew who we were, there will always be a part of me that believes that there was still a spark inside his mind.
September is World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, September 21 also marks World Alzheimer’s Day.
1. What is dementia? (2021). Alzheimer Society of Canada. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from <https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/what-dementia?gclid=CjwKCAjw-ZCKBhBkEiwAM4qfFzfs0A9CWzbjXtEN_dU3fd0dkUOdcNaU1MQuKaCrNkZ0hlaxU9BF3BoC6m4QAvD_BwE>
2. Dementia calculator. (n.d.). Project Big Life. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from <https://www.projectbiglife.ca/dementia>
3. Canada, P. H. A. of. (2021). Government of Canada. Canada.ca. / Gouvernement du Canada. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from <https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/dementia.html#a6>
4. Fisher, S., Hsu, A., Mojaverian, N., Taljaard, M., Huyer, G., Manuel, D. G., & Tanuseputro, P. (2017). Dementia population risk tool (DemPoRT): Study protocol for a predictive algorithm assessing dementia risk in the community. BMJ Open. British Medical Journal Publishing Group. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from <https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/10/e018018>
5. News and stories. (n.d.). Bruyère - Blog. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from <https://www.bruyere.org/en/Blog/canadian-researchers-develop--calculator-that-predicts-risk-of-dementia?ly=4>