David McFadden, recipient of the Griffin Poetry Prize and author of over 35 books, suffers from dementia. His cognitive impairments first appeared as confusion when it came to words – the very tools he needs for his craft. He would stop mid sentence, unable to recall the word he needed or substitute a word that didn’t make sense. Fortunately, Mr. McFadden was referred to Dr. Carmela Tartaglia, a neurologist at Toronto Western Hospital.
By the time he came to see me, Mr. McFadden’s symptoms had moved from the language domain to include more classic memory problems,” says Dr. Tartaglia, who diagnosed him with logopenic variant primary progressive aphasia, a type of Alzheimer’s disease that affects a person’s memory of words.
Sometimes Mr. McFadden writes two versions of the same poem because he forgets having written the first, but the object or event that triggered the idea for the poem remains the same. The aphasia does not affect the ‘idea part’ of the brain. “His Alzheimer’s affects his memory of words, but not his creativity,” explains Dr. Tartaglia.
Mr. McFadden was the first participant in a study led by Dr. Tartaglia to look at the effects of aerobic exercise on people with dementia. “There is a lot of scientific evidence showing that, when started in mid-life, exercise activity – especially aerobic exercise – can delay the onset of neurodegenerative disease and slow its progression when it starts; explains Dr. Tartaglia.”What’s not as well-known is the effect of aerobic exercise on a person already living with dementia which is what this research is investigating:’
Mr. McFadden hasn’t let his aphasia change how he feels about life. Since winning the Griffin Prize, he’s written several more books and has a new book coming this fall from Mansfield Press. “I’m a happy guy, he said. “That’s never changed.”
“It’s important for people with Alzheimer’s disease to continue to be engaged. You can still accomplish great things.”
Dr.Carmela Tartaglia Neurologist, Memory Clinic
Krembil Neuroscience Centre,Toronto Western Hospital