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What dementia-related services are available on Guam

By Pacific Island Times News Staff


While empirical evidence speaks to the growing cases of dementia on Guam, no current data are available to determine the actual number of patients on island.

The latest available study was conducted in 2007. Published by the National Library of Medicine, the study concluded that the prevalence of dementia among elderly CHamoru people was relatively high.

“Guam dementia is the most common diagnosis and exceeds parkinsonism-dementia complex,” the study said. “Age and low education are strongly associated with dementia, but gender and APOE epsilon4 are not. Incidence studies will allow risk factors for dementia to be clarified.”

Dementia is a decline in mental ability that affects memory, thinking, problem-solving, concentration and perception. It occurs due to the death of brain cells or damage in parts of the brain that deal with our thought processes. Some forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, are degenerative, which means they get worse over time. Other forms of dementia, such as vascular dementia, may be non-degenerative and may not get worse over time.

 According to a 2007 study, CHamoru people had a high incidence of ALS and Parkinsonism-dementia complex or PDC in the 1950s. Over the next 50 years, ALS incidence declined markedly, but PDC only slightly. Scientists found that PDC was a unique disorder found only on Guam. The prevalence of late-life dementia among CHamoru population and its relationship to ALS/PDC are unknown.

   In Washington, dementia is receiving fresh attention from the federal government. “Research continues to expand our understanding of the causes and prevention of, and the treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia,” according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “This goal seeks to develop additional prevention and treatment modalities by 2025. Ongoing research and clinical inquiry can inform our ability to prevent AD/ADRD, minimize its symptoms, and delay its progression.”

 According to the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, most types of dementia cannot be cured, except those related to vitamin deficiency, which can be treated with supplements; and those resulting from head injury, which can be treated through surgery.

“There are some psychological treatments and drugs that can help people in the early stages of dementia,” the center said on its website. “Drugs such as Aricept and Reminyl may delay the progression of symptoms of the disease in people with mild to moderate dementia. Medical researchers are currently looking at other medical treatments including anti-oxidants, brain stem cell therapy and a vaccination to stop the build-up of plaques in the brain (a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease).”

Dementia experts at the University of Guam noted that despite impairment in social functioning, persons with dementia still enjoy social interaction.

“Thus, there is a need to develop effective strategies for interacting with persons living with dementia in a meaningful way,” according to a report published June 16, 2023 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Association.

The report introduced the telehealth dementia care training initiative developed on Guam for family and professional caregivers “to make meaningful connections” with persons with dementia.

The strategies include “a wide range of stimulating, culturally responsive activities adapted to meet their unique needs, interests and abilities,” according to the report prepared by Dr. Iain K.B. Twaddle as the lead author. “Activities were designed to provide opportunities for social engagement and simultaneously to help persons with dementia remain mentally and physically active.”

“Program outcomes indicate that telehealth training in activity-based dementia care can be an effective way to help caregivers learn to make meaningful connections with persons living with dementia,” states the report coauthored by Margaret Perez Hattori-Uchima, Nikolas Jude Gutierrez, Rhoda Gaba Orallo.

UOG’s Isa Psychological Services Center provides individuals who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia with a private space to talk about their experiences living with dementia.

 “Professional counseling can help individuals with early-stage dementia to learn to cope with and adapt to the many changes it brings,” according to Isa. “Counseling can also help individuals with dementia to share their worries and frustrations, make sense of their lives, and improve their overall quality of life. All services are supportive, client-centered, confidential, and free of charge.”

The Guma Ginefli’e Dementia Day Care provides elderly daycare services for those diagnosed with dementia. The program is funded by the Division of Senior Citizens, Department of Public Health & Social Services.

Guma Ginefli’e, which means “house of caring in CHamoru, is a respite program in a non-institutional homelike environment that offers structured activities for adults who are unable to function at home without supportive services and who do not need 24-hour care. They are persons who would normally be home-bound but have no one at home during the day to look after them.

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