The mysteries surrounding brain health are a global concern. As people age, it is expected that their brain function will decline, yet dementia is not considered part of this normal aging process. There are, however, ways to positively influence mental agility and maintain overall wellness throughout our lives.
To that end, the Canadian Friends of Herzog Hospital (CFHH) has invited internationally renowned experts in the fields of dementia and emotional trauma to address the community at a public forum called Fostering Brain Health: New Frontiers in Coping with Dementia and Emotional Trauma. It will be held on June 27 at 7:30 p.m. at Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue in Toronto.
The expert panelists, all of whom are members of the board of CFHH, include: Dr. Janice Halpern, a psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto; Mimi Lowi-Young, the former CEO of the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada; and Dr. Joel Sadavoy, the medical director of the Reitman Centre for Alzheimer’s Support and Training.
Likewise, Wendy Switzer Myles, the chairman of the CFHH, said that, “Dr. Yehezkel Caine, CEO and director-general, Herzog Hospital, Jerusalem, will present the critical work coming out of Herzog Hospital in the areas of immunology, together with Alzheimer’s prevention and the latest frontiers on Alzheimer’s research.”
Established in 1894, Herzog Hospital is the leading geriatric, psychiatric and respiratory care centre in Israel. It is a worldwide pioneer in both Alzheimer’s research and the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Nearly half a million Canadians are living with dementia today and that’s expected to grow to close to a million by 2030,” said Lowi-Young, who will moderate the event. “There are probably over 300 different types of dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common. Dementia has an incredible stigma – people talk in whispers about the disease. That is why forums like this are so important.”
Speaking to The CJN from Jerusalem, Caine said that Herzog Hospital is “focusing on possible mechanisms to help in prevention, and work on possible treatments.” And while he admits that there is “no cure in sight which can reverse the damage already caused to the brain,” Caine said his researchers are looking at various treatment options, such as transcranial direct current stimulation.
“One of the goals of the transcranial stimulation is to enhance the parts of the brain that are still functioning. Let’s call it putting the brain on overdrive – giving it an extra boost, and by that, trying to help the remaining parts of the brain take over,” he said.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is another kind of brain dysfunction, but one with a very different cause than Alzheimer’s. “When you think about dementia, it comes from inside the person,” said Halpern. “There isn’t an outside factor that causes it, whereas PTSD is brought on by an outside event. Statistics indicate that 10 per cent of the population will, at some point in their life, have PTSD. For something to be traumatic, there has to be a threat of somebody dying or being grievously ill. Often it’s unexpected, but (it) doesn’t have to be.
“It can happen to the person experiencing that incident, or somebody witnessing it, or somebody who is hearing about it in a person that they care about; for example, the Toronto van attack, or the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. The risk doubles for first responders. Police, firefighters, paramedics and people in the military have a 20 per cent chance of developing PTSD in their lifetime.”
Caregivers are also at high risk because of the emotional impact of dementia. “Dementia is bewildering, it’s unpredictable and it is heavily associated with feelings of loss and a certain kind of grief. It is called ‘disenfranchised grief’ – essentially, grieving for someone that hasn’t died,” said Sadavoy.
“The high incidence of psychological disturbance amongst caregivers increases the effect on physical health that caregivers struggle with. So they often decline along with the person who has the dementia. The first thing to know as a caregiver: it is critical to look after your own needs and to learn as much as you can about the disease.”