After a recent poll showing that a large percentage of those who suffer from dementia feel stigmatized, the Alzheimer Society of Canada is launching nationwide campaign that aims to change attitudes and clear up myths about the disease.
The poll, conducted by Alzheimer’s Disease International, found that 40 percent of people with dementia reported they had been avoided or treated differently after diagnosis. One in four respondents cited stigma as a reason to conceal their diagnosis.
The Alzheimer Society of Canada says stereotypes and misinformation can prevent people with dementia from getting the help they need and stop others from taking the disease seriously.
“Dementia really challenges the values we hold as a society and what it means to be human,” says Mary Schulz, the Alzheimer Society’s director of education.
“We need to stop avoiding this disease and rethink how we interact with people with dementia. Only by understanding the disease and talking more openly about it, can we face our own fears and support individuals and families living with dementia.”
• Memory loss -- forgetting recent events or difficulty retaining new information
• Difficulty performing familiar tasks -- preparing a meal or shopping
• Language problems -- finding the right words or using inappropriate words
• Disorientation -- getting lost on the way to work or being confused about the time of day
• Poor or decreased judgment -- neglecting personal hygiene or safety
• Problems with abstract thinking -- difficulty balancing a cheque book or not understanding what the numbers mean
• Misplacing things -- putting things in odd places like storing an iron in the fridge
• Behavioural changes -- sharp mood swings, from calm to tears to depression that are hard to explain
• Personality changes -- becoming unusually withdrawn, suspicious or anxious
• Loss of initiative -- withdrawing from friends and family and losing interest in activities
Source: Alzheimer Society of Canada
Dementia is a progressive degenerative brain disorder that affects each person differently and has no cure. In Canada, 747,000 people have the disorder. While dementia can affect people as young as 40, the risk doubles every five years after 65, according to the Alzheimer Society.
However, a diagnosis of dementia doesn’t mean immediate, drastic changes in patients’ lives, Schulz notes.
“A diagnosis of dementia doesn’t immediately render a person incapable of working or carrying on with their daily life,” she says.
“Many people with this disease tell us they want to continue contributing to their community and remain engaged for as long as possible.”
In fact, there is growing evidence that involving people with dementia in meaningful activities that speak to their strengths helps to slow the progression of the disease and will improve their well-being, Schulz says.
With the number of Canadians with dementia expected to double to 1.4 million in the next 20 years, the Alzheimer’s Society aims to address misunderstandings about the disorder through its “Let’s talk about dementia” campaign, which runs through January, Alzheimer Awareness Month.
In order to “help change the conversation,” the society suggests Canadians educate themselves about dementia; stop making jokes about Alzheimer’s “which trivializes the condition”; and maintain relationships with people with dementia at home, in the community, and at work, especially as the disease progresses.
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