Alzheimer Society of BC appreciates the people of Powell River and Sunshine Coast for their encouraging response to January’s annual Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and to our campaign intended to challenge stigma surrounding the disease: “Yes. I live with dementia. Let me help you understand.”
Recently, the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences released a report by a panel of dementia experts highlighting priorities for a national dementia strategy, work undertaken by the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2018. The authors emphasized the importance of adopting healthy lifestyles that might prevent or delay dementia, as well as overcoming stigma and fear of living with dementia. They stressed that it is possible to live well with the disease.
Increasingly, when we talk about raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, we need to talk about challenging stigma. Negative attitudes about the disease mean when someone begins to suspect that they, or someone close to them, might have dementia, they are less likely to seek out a diagnosis. They’re less likely to disclose their situation to others. Worrying that someone will judge them or think of them as being less of a person means people are less likely to ask for help.
The dementia journey can be incredibly isolating. When we talk openly about the disease and challenge preconceived notions, people living with dementia begin to feel like they aren’t alone and can ask for help. They can better prepare themselves for the challenges ahead. Communities play a key role in helping people living with dementia, their families and caregivers, feel like they belong, just by being aware of the disease and actively engaged with learning about it.
With more than half a million Canadians currently living with dementia, a number that will only grow as the population ages, it has never been so important to be open to having a conversation about dementia. It has never been so important to change the conversation.
Although Awareness Month is now over, tips on how to be more dementia friendly are available at ilivewithdementia.ca. There you will also find resources to take action against stigma and be better informed about a disease that has the potential to affect every single one of us.
We are grateful for the work provided by our local staff and volunteers. For information on support groups and many other services, call 604.984.8348 or 604.984.8347 (toll-free 1.866.984.8348 or 1.855.984.8347), or go to alzheimerbc.org.
Vivian Tsai is the support and education coordinator for Alzheimer Society of BC.