eNewsletter October 2014

In This Issue

Laugh Your Way From Stress
Through the Eyes of a Child
Zeroing in on the Myelin Sheath
Vitamin D Deficiency and Dementia
Spotlight on Current Research: Call for Participants
Caregiving Tips: Support Through Grief and Loss
Upcoming Education
Upcoming Support Groups
Upcoming Events


Laugh Your Way from Stress:
Care4u Keynote Speaker Will Show You How

Christine 3x3

Christine van der Hoek thrives on getting people’s laugh muscles working, and that’s no joke.

A keynote speaker at the Alzheimer Society’s Care4u Family Conference on Saturday, November 1, Christine plans to get serious about having fun. She believes that everybody has a little “goofball” in them, and she intends to draw it out. So beware: participants in her session might find themselves on stage playing games, but there’s no doubt they’ll have fun in the process.

There is a serious angle to Christine’s entertaining antics: she wants to help ease the stress levels of people who are caring for someone with dementia. “Caregivers are often people who have many other responsibilities in their lives, like jobs and kids and aging parents,” she says. “They work overtime, and then have to hurry up to get to their kid’s ball game after they’ve run over to check on a parent. They feel like they’re rushing all the time.”

To add to the pressure, many caregivers wonder if they’re really making a difference in the life of the person with dementia. The first reality is that people with dementia don’t get better, as the disease process can’t be changed. The second reality is that caregivers, who may be running themselves ragged trying to take care of everything, need to learn to take care of themselves.

Owner of The Training Zone and manager of Adult Fitness at the Wellness Institute in Winnipeg, Christine strongly believes that there are things caregivers can do to make their lives more manageable. With a background in fitness instruction and personal training, she has lots of tips to share during her presentation at Care4u – simple things, such as eating properly and exercising on a regular basis.

She stresses that you do NOT have to be a marathon runner to get relief from stress – on the contrary. For example, taking five minutes a day to do something that challenges your coordination (think rubbing your tummy and patting your head) can do wonders for the body and brain.

“There is great misunderstanding about what you have to do to be healthy. All you really need is a few minutes a day. That is the message I want to get across: it’s the little things we do in a day that make the difference.”

Christine knows of what she speaks. Her past personal life experience includes caring for a parent with dementia and surviving a family tragedy. She says the stress she endured changed her from being a cheery, positive person to one who had lost control.

Today, she has reclaimed that control and is eager to share her thoughts with people who may be feeling overwhelmed or helpless in their situations. She has combined her personal experience with her professional education to design a fun-filled session that will leave people feeling positive and empowered.

Join Christine from 2:30 to 3:15 pm at the Care4u Family Conference on November 1 at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg. You’ll learn some tips to help get you through your day, and your laugh muscles might get a little workout in the process.


Through the Eyes of a Child: What Alzheimer’s Means to Me


Christian A. Romanowski is an elementary school student in Winnipeg who wrote the following speech for an audience at the Fort Garry United Church in Winnipeg in June 2014. Bob Thompson, whose wife Barbara has Alzheimer’s disease, alerted us to Christian’s compelling story about a young boy’s relationship with an older friend with dementia. The Alzheimer Society is pleased to have Christian as a guest writer in this edition of our eNewsletter.

At left: A young Christian Romanowski, guest writer for this article, and his friend, Barbara Thompson.

Christian’s Story
When I first learned about Alzheimer’s, I thought that it was just a disease that caused forgetfulness. Now, because my friend Barbara has it, I know that it is much more than that. It is a dangerous disease that causes severe memory loss up until the point that a person barely knows who they are.

Over the past few years I have noticed some changes in my friend. When I was a baby, Barbara would sometimes come over to spend time with me; we would always rock in the rocking chair and read and sing plenty of songs! When I was a little older every time she would come over Barbara would always bring a new surprise for us to do, like a board game or a puzzle. It was so fun! I always loved her laugh and never ending ear-to-ear smile.

As I got older she would sometimes come to the wrong house when she visited us and I would have to run down the street and show her to our house. At first I thought it was just a game we would play, but I soon realized that she really couldn’t recall which house we lived in. We soon learned to just wait on our steps and wave like crazy when she drove by. That way she would be able to come to the right house on the first try.

Before, whenever I saw Barbara, I would give her a great big hug. Now whenever I see her and go in for the hug, she seems a little nervous, but she still hugs me anyways. When I used to see her in the past, we would have great, long conversations. Now, Barbara doesn’t talk as much to me, or to anybody else. It doesn’t make me feel very good to know that my friend doesn’t really remember me.  Sometimes, though, it seems that she still knows me. This year on her birthday, we got her a sea glass necklace. When I handed it to her, she said,

“Ooohhh! Thank you!” and turned to her daughter Genevieve. Genevieve then corrected her,

“No, Christian gave that to you.” Barbara then turned to me and the look on her face told me that she did know me. She hugged me, and said with a smile,

“Thank you! It’s beautiful!”

“You’re welcome!” I happily replied. It made me feel amazing that my friend still remembered me, even if it was just for a moment!

It breaks my heart to know that because of Alzheimer’s, many other people around the globe feel as devastated as I do talking about this subject. Alzheimer’s is stealing away my friend Barbara! It is important that kids know about Alzheimer’s because it is up to us, the “New Generation” to find a cure for Alzheimer’s before it is too late!

Even though I can still hear Barbara’s laugh and see her beautiful smile, I really miss my friend and the way things used to be. Barbara is my inspiration, and  someday I want to be the person who finds a cure for Alzheimer’s!


Manitoba Researcher Zeros in on the Myelin Sheath

Shenghua Zhu 3x3Shenghua Zhu knows all too well the affects Alzheimer’s disease has on a family, so he decided to use his knowledge and expertise to examine how to increase the quality of life for those affected.

Shenghua is a researcher at the University of Manitoba and recipient of a 2014 Biomedical Award through the Alzheimer Society Research Program (ASRP). He received $66,000 in funding for his project, Oligodendrocyte Dysfunction in Alzheimer’s Disease: Mechanism and Target for Treatment. His research looks at neurons and the myelin sheath that surrounds them within the white matter of the brain. Myelin is an insulator wrapped around axons (nerve fibers) that allows neurons to communicate at high speeds.

“A breakdown in myelin results in abnormal thoughts and behaviours, and evidence suggests that Alzheimer’s disease may involve abnormalities in myelin,” explains Shenghua. He hopes to determine whether the changes in myelin contribute to aspects of the disease progression, such as memory loss. “We wanted to think outside of convention. Many cells and neurons are responsible for memories.”

By studying the disease in transgenic mice, Shenghua aims to determine if the myelin breakdown is a direct cause of Alzheimer’s disease or if it’s a secondary consequence, as well as whether or not regenerating white matter could slow disease progression, or even its onset. “If successful, this research could lead to the creation of pharmaceutical intervention and prevention strategies, which could possibly slow down the disease and potentially give people a higher quality of life for longer,” he says.

This resonates strongly with the young researcher; a family member has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, so he is well aware of how dementia can affect everyone. “My wife’s grandfather only has memories from his childhood…it’s hard to see someone so close to you turn into a stranger.”

In addition to his personal reasons, Shenghua’s research is motivated by population demographics and the aging population. “Age is the biggest risk factor, and it’s scary to think about how much the disease will rise if we don’t do anything,” explains Shenghua.

While there is still a lot of work to do, it’s fortunate that Manitoba has a strong research community made up of people like Shenghua, who is grateful for the support system in place. “I want to give special thanks to my supervisors, Dr. Xin-Min Li and Dr. Jun-Feng Wang, as well as the University of Manitoba Neuroscience Research Program, for giving me everything I need for the research.“

Shenghua is incredibly thankful for the funding he received from ASRP, which is allowing him to move forward with his research.


Study Reveals Link Between Dementia and Vitamin D Deficiency


A study at the University of Exeter Medical School, England, explored whether low vitamin D concentrations are associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study, the vitamin D blood levels of 1,658 people over the age of 65 who were dementia-free were measured. After an average of six years, 171 participants developed dementia and 102 had Alzheimer’s disease.

Results demonstrate that the risk of developing both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is significantly higher in participants who are vitamin D deficient. People who were vitamin D deficient had about a 53% increased risk of developing dementia and a nearly 70% risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Study participants who had severe vitamin D deficiency were more than twice as likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, with 125% increased risk for dementia and over 120% risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Mechanisms that may increase the risk include the possible role of vitamin D in the clearance of amyloid plaques, as well as the association between vitamin D deficiency and stroke. Findings suggest that vitamin D may have a role in brain health.

Study researchers recommend further replication to verify their findings.

For more information about the study, Vitamin D and the Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer Disease, by Littlejohns, T.J. et al, visit: http://www.neurology.org/content/83/10/920.full.pdf+html.

A press release may be found at this link: https://www.aan.com/PressRoom/Home/PressRelease/1300.


Spotlight on Current Research
Calling All Participants!


Are you currently providing care to a family member who is 65 years of age or older? Do you provide at least 10 hours a week of support? Are you currently employed?

If so, Dr. Laura Funk, Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba, wants to hear from you about your experience as a caregiver. She is interested in learning about how policies, organizations and health care systems influence your experiences through a study called Family Caregiver Navigation through Organizational Systems and Policies.

Your responses will provide important information about caregivers’ experiences navigating through health and support systems as well as balancing work and care giving. Because Dr. Funk is seeking to create an overall picture of caregivers, she will also ask a few demographic questions.

Your participation would involve an in-person interview approximately 1.5 hours in length conducted by a trained research interviewer. The interview would take place at a time and quiet location convenient for you. Because the research will examine changes over time in your experience, the researchers would also like to conduct two additional follow-up interviews over the course of two years.

Involvement is voluntary and steps will be taken to safeguard the confidentiality of your personal information. If you would like to participate or learn more, please contact Dr. Laura Funk at Laura.Funk@ad.umanitoba.ca or by phone at 204-474-6678.

This study is funded by a grant from the Manitoba Health Research Council and has been approved by the Psychology/Sociology Research Ethics Board at the University of Manitoba.

For more information, contact:
Dr.Laura Funk
Rm 307 Isbister Building
Department of Sociology, University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Manitoba  R3T 2N2
Telephone: 204-474-6678
Fax: 204-261-1216


Caregiving Tips

tipslogoSupporting a Person with Dementia Through Grief and Loss

We all experience losses in our lives, including the death of a significant person. How we respond and cope with these circumstances is unique to each of us, but for people with dementia, the experience and response may be more profound. It is helpful when families and friends support someone with dementia through grief and loss. Here are some ways:


    • Tell the person when someone close to them has died. This will prevent the person from picking up the sadness in others without understanding why. Choose a time of the day when the person is well rested, and only have one person break the news. Use short, simple statements. Use “died” instead of “at peace now” or “passed away.” Validate the person’s emotions and provide support with touch, holding hands or a hug.
    • Involve the person in planning rituals or ceremonies if the person is still physically and emotionally able. Being able to contribute helps in the grieving process. Assist the person to make the decision about whether to attend the funeral. Be watchful of the person’s emotional state during these occasions, but allow opportunity for tears or the expression of thoughts and feelings.
    • Support the person through the grieving process. Reminisce about the individual who has died. Discuss pictures or tell stories. Listen to the stories that the person with dementia wants to share. Be patient when the person repeatedly asks about the death or wants to talk about the person who has died.
    • Fill the gap for what was lost. Did the person who died read books, bring cookies, attend church with or often visit the person with dementia? The change in routine could make the person with dementia feel lonely or distressed. Try to do those things with the person to avoid the feeling of emptiness.

Family and friends are also experiencing the grief and loss that comes with death; as well as supporting the person with dementia, find ways to address your own feelings. Be open to seek help in managing your own grief as well as that of the person with dementia.


Upcoming Education

Telehealth Sessions (for regional communities only):
The Alzheimer Society offers Family Education for those experiencing dementia in regional communities across the province through the video technology of MBTelehealth.
Join us on the following dates:
Tuesday, October 7, 6:30 to 8:30 pm: The Impact of Dementia in Canada and the
Warning Signs we all Need to Know
Tuesday, October 14, 6:30 to 8 pm: I’m Still Here!
Tuesday, October 21, 6:30 to 8 pm: Planning for Your Future
Click here for more information and a list of Telehealth locations.
Click here to register.

Act On It! Ideas for Keeping a Healthy Brain
It’s never too soon or too late to make changes to improve or maintain your brain health!
Wednesday, October 8, 1:30 to 2:30 pm
Corydon Community Centre, 1370 Grosvenor Ave., Winnipeg (map)
Click here for poster.

Experiencing Dementia THIS SESSION IS FULL
This is an eight-week classroom program uniting families and community members with
who are experiencing the early stages of dementia.
Thursdays, October 9 to November 27, 10 to 11:30 am
Alzheimer Society Provincial Office, 10-120 Donald Street, Winnipeg
Click here for more information. For the opportunity to enroll in the next session, contact the
Client Services Coordinator at 204-943-6622, ext. 229

First Link: Connecting Families to Support and Services
Thursday, October 16, 7 to 8:30 pm
The Westhaven, 3033 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg (map)
Click here to register.

Free Library Series
Join us on October 18, 20 and 27 for our Library Series.
Click here for our calendar to find locations, times and topics.

Care4u: A Conference for Family and Friends
Caring for a Person with Dementia

Saturday, November 1, 9 am to 3:30 pm
Canadian Mennonite University, 500 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg (map)
Click here to register and for more information

Meaningful Moments:
Maximizing Opportunities to Share Quality Time Together

Wednesday, November 19, 7 to 8:30 pm
The Parkway Retirement Community, 85 Paget Street, Winnipeg (map)
For more information, call 204-943-6622 ext. 203
Click here to register.

Living with Alzheimer’s Disease or Other Dementias (Workshop)
A day-long workshop providing valuable information for those who are caring
for a person with dementia.
Saturday, November 22, 9 am to 4 pm
4th Floor Assiniboine Centre, 150 McTavish Avenue, Brandon (map)
Click here for more information.


Upcoming Support Groups

Click here for information on Support Groups for People with Dementia

Click here for information on Support Groups for Family and Friends


Upcoming Events

coffee cupIt’s Not Too Late to
Make Your Coffee Count!CB 2014 Quicklink

Hosting a Coffee Break® event during September and October is an easy and fun way to show your support for people affected by Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia in your community. Participants at these events make a donation in exchange for a cup of coffee.
Click here for more information.

LebowskiPalooza 2014
Come and celebrate the Coen Brothers’ film, The Big Lebowski, and raise money for the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba.
Saturday, October 18, 6 pm
The Garrick Centre, 330 Garry Street, Winnipeg (map)
Click here for more information.

Trivia Challenge 2014
Challenge your brain at this fun event while helping to support the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba.
Thursday, October 23, doors open at 6:30 pm
McPhillips Station Casino, Upper Deck, Sports Lounge, 484 McPhillips Street, Winnipeg (map)
Click here for more information and to donate.