Jill Daum and her husband John Mann, lead singer of Spirit of the West, pose for a photograph in Toronto on Friday, April 29, 2016. Mann, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 52, died Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Services needed in B.C. for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease patients: doctor, advocates

More patients are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at an earlier age

Being told he was too young to have Alzheimer’s disease would always catch Jim Mann off guard, but it was a nurse’s comment dismissing his condition that really stung.

“She looked me up and down and said, ‘Well, you look fine,’ ” said Mann, who was 58 when he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, a term used when the form of dementia strikes people under age 65.

Mann, now 71, said the nurse made the remark in an emergency ward six years ago while he was there for an unrelated concern and mentioned he’d need his wife, Alice Mann, to stay with him because he had Alzheimer’s disease.

Mann is a passionate advocate for Alzheimer’s patients as a volunteer with the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia and said the awareness that Spirit of the West lead singer John Mann, no relation, created before his death this week will go a long way toward educating the public about the condition that can come with a lonely and isolating existence.

“It’s a cognitive disorder,” he said. “It almost gives people licence to make jokes about it or to question the legitimacy of your diagnosis just because it isn’t physical.”

Alzheimer’s patients already face enough stigma but those who are diagnosed at a younger age deal with more of it, Mann said.

“The biggest thing is questioning of the diagnosis because you’re able to have a conversation. The assumption is you don’t have it, period. I had someone say to me, ‘You don’t have a diagnosis. Look how well you’re dressed.’ “

Mann decided to see his doctor when he started becoming increasingly disoriented, disorganized and forgetful, often stopping in the middle of a task in the kitchen and trying to figure out what he was supposed to be doing next and even leaving the stove on.

ALSO READ: Here’s what you need to know about dementia, and ways to reduce your risk

His advocacy work has given him a purpose, and that’s what he said patients need to focus on so they have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

John Mann, whose work as a songwriter for the Vancouver-based band earned him four Juno nominations, died Wednesday at age 57, five years after he announced he had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2016, the documentary “Spirit Unforgettable” captured the toll the disease had on his ability to perform but it is also a great educational tool to create awareness of the ravages of the disease, Jim Mann said.

The singer, along with his wife Jill Daum, also shared their story at events hosted by the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

Dr. Haakon Nygaard, a neurologist at the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine, said Alzheimer’s weakens the body because patients often lose their appetite and can’t sleep, becoming frailer and sometimes die of pneumonia or heart failure.

Patients with an early-onset diagnosis face greater challenges because they often have children still living at home and find themselves trying to keep pick-up and drop-off schedules straight while their performance at work also suffers, he said.

However, many of the services available for Alzheimer’s patients are geared toward seniors.

“What’s frustrating for us is that younger individuals have trouble accessing the right resources,” Nygaard said.

More patients are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at an earlier age, and that may be because of greater awareness created by John Mann and others, he said.

Sharon Tong, support and education co-ordinator for the Alzheimer Society of B.C., said she links patients and families with resources in Cantonese and Mandarin, though services are also offered in Punjabi.

Shame often keeps people from revealing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, which is sometimes wrongly connected to mental illness or myths about eating certain foods or having some connection to metals, she said.

In April, the society launched a help line in Chinese that some people feel more comfortable calling rather than asking questions in person, Tong said, adding she also facilitates community workshops and forums with guest speakers including doctors and nurses who provide education.

The society also recently developed an initiative in partnership with the City of Vancouver to train city workers and volunteers on how best to support community members living with dementia.

In January, the Alzheimer Society of Canada will launch an anti-stigma campaign for a third year with the tag line: “I have dementia. Let me help you understand.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Hundreds demonstrate in Abbotsford for end to racism

Protest in city’s historic downtown was largest demonstration in recent memory

Mission School District’s 2020 graduation ceremony plans now in place

June grad for École Mission Senior Secondary, Fraserview Learning Centre, Riverside College

Hundreds fill Chilliwack streets for Black Lives Matter march

‘Canada has a problem too,’ reads at least one protester’s sign

IHIT names homicide victim found in the Fraser Canyon this week

Police asking for tips into the suspicious death of 29-year-old Alicia Berg

VIDEO: Homeless person struck by freight train in Abbotsford

Victim required airlift to hospital, Maclure Road shut down for hours

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The importance of accurate, ethical reporting is critical – perhaps as never before

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park at large

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

No charges to be laid against 22 northern B.C. pipeline protesters

Twenty-two people were arrested in February, but Crown has decided not to pursue charges

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

IHIT investigating ‘suspicious’ death of Surrey man

Officers found the body while on foot patrol: Surrey RCMP

Most Read