We can all agree that Alzheimer’s and the debilitating effect it has on its sufferers is horrifying but one positive about the prevalence of the disease is that thousands of researchers around the world are working on treatments, prevention and ultimately a cure for the chronic neurodegenerative disease. With an estimated 564 thousand Canadians already afflicted with Alzheimer’s and about 25 thousand new cases being diagnosed each year, studies are being done all the time to better understand every facet of Alzheimer’s, from how it can start, who becomes ill with it and also what the precursors are for it.


Recently, researchers at the University of Calgary released a check list for doctors to follow to better detect if their patients might be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s basically a behavioural checklist for physicians to discuss with their patients because these Calgary scientists believe it is attitude changes, even subtle ones that are a clearer indicator of developing Alzheimer’s than being forgetful. That hypothesis in itself is a departure from the long held belief that losing grip on one’s memory is the first warning sign and that occasional changes in mood or attitude were just a natural part of the aging process.

A senior couple.  The wife is caring for the husband.

Mild Behavioural Impairment is what researchers hope will unlock our ability to better pinpoint and diagnose Alzheimer’s before it reaches a catastrophic stage. Mild Behavioural Impairment in simple terms is considered to be that grey zone in between typical signs of aging and developing dementia of some form. Neuropsychiatric symptoms have shown up with MBI and these University of Calgary researchers think the link is more than just coincidence.


As part of your senior care Toronto strategy, it’s worth talking about this to your doctor either for yourself or a loved one whom you have seen unusual behavioural changes. According to the lead researcher for the study, Dr. Zahinoor Ismail, the idea is to identify the possible onset of the disease as early as possible saying “if we capture these people early, and then you wonder, if we actually give them anti-dementia drugs that we’ve been giving too late because we’re diagnosing dementia too late, if we give them very early can we prevent or hasten the onset of cognitive-decline dementia?”


The checklist that Dr. Ismail’s team has formulated features a series of questions for both doctors and family members to go through to identify any changes in social behaviour, mood swings or anxiety issues that were never there before. Depending on the results of the checklist, the patient may start taking anti-dementia medication far sooner than what has been the norm for so many other patients and that should allow them to live a normal, healthier life that much longer.


Easy Access

One of the really great things about this test is that it’s affordable and accessible. No expensive machinery other than a photocopier is required to conduct this test, which makes it something that could hopefully become a normal part of the diagnostic process for doctors around the world. In fact, the Calgary researchers are distributing this checklist internationally in the hopes of helping Alzheimer’s sufferers be diagnosed sooner. The goal is also that this test can cut back on the wait time patients usually have to endure before being able to see a specialist.


How It Works

While family and home care giver input is very useful, a trained specialist will still be required to decipher the results of the 34-question checklist and determine the best course of action. After all, we all have bad days or sad days now and then, so you wouldn’t want to worry that means you may be developing Alzheimer’s. The criteria is more in depth than that and the minimum threshold is six months of behavioural changes not brought on by the side effects from medications or general life stressors.


When Can You Try It?

While lead researcher, Dr. Ismail is using the test in Calgary where he is a practicing psychiatrist who specializes in Alzheimer’s disease, he says more study and testing on patients is still required before the test becomes readily available. Meantime, some of the questions on the checklist include:


  • Has the person lost interest in friends, family or home activities?
  • Has the person become less likely to initiate or maintain conversation?
  • Has the person become agitated, aggressive, irritable or temperamental?
  • Does the person hoard objects when she/he did not do so before?