Coffee, anyone?

Most people take a time-out for coffee, either to kickstart their morning or for relief from a hectic schedule. This fall, the Alzheimer Society plans to turn those everyday coffee breaks into something a little different.

On Wednesday, September 17, the second annual Alzheimer Coffee Break will be held across Canada. The concept is simple: coffee is served in offices, gas stations, hospitals, community centres, residences — virtually anywhere people drink it — and the only charge is a donation to the Society.

The proceeds from sponsors and participants — which exceeded $375,000 last year, making the event the prime fund-raiser for the Alzheimer Society — go towards funding local programs and services for those with Alzheimer’s Disease and their caregivers.

“The needs of Alzheimer sufferers are very different from those of other patients,” explains Carolyn Hockley, Public Relations Coordinator for Metro Toronto’s Alzheimer Society. “Right now, most are isolated in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, both of which fail to meet their special needs.”

Hockley believes the country needs homes designed specifically for Alzheimer’s patients,ith specially-trained nurses and counselors providing round-the-clock care. But that means lots of dollars and cents, emphasizing the importance of every penny raised.

Last year, over 7,000 Coffee Breaks were held nation-wide, a number expected to more than double this time around. Adding luster to the festivities, National Hockey League star and Stanley Cup champion Brendan Shanahan, whose father recently passed away from Alzheimer’s, and popular French actress Linda Malo will act as spokespersons for the event. Major corporate sponsors include Imperial Life Financial and Pfizer Canada.

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a degenerative brain disorder that destroys cells vital to everyday thoughts and activities. Occurring most commonly in people over 65, the disease, without a known cause or cure, leaves sufferers defenseless. Over one-quarter million Canadians have been diagnosed with AD, a figure expected to triple in the next 30 years as our population ages.

Warning signs of Alzheimer’s include forgetfulness, language erosion, irritability, energy loss, as well as a tendency to cling to what’s familiar. As the disease progresses over the years (the pace of desecration varies), the patient shows signs of markedly altered behavior — including inability to recognize family or friends and disorientation to time and place.

In the latter stages, short-term memory fades completely and the distant past often becomes astonishingly clear.

The Alzheimer Society of Canada is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting sufferers and their families, as well as educating the public. It also funds biomedical research to determine the cause, and ultimately, the cure for Alzheimer’s. “Our real hope is to find medications that will slow the disease’s progress enough so that sufferers can outlive the really bad stages until a cure is found,” adds Hockley. “And we’re closer than most people think.”

Unfortunately, “close” in medical terms still means years away. But, in the meantime, everyone can lend a hand simply by sipping a mug full of Java come September.

If you’re interested in helping out or would like information on how to host your own Coffee Break, call 1-800-616-8816.