EDITORIAL: Battling the stigma surrounding dementia

January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

According to statistics posted on the Alzheimer Society Canada website (alzheimer.ca), 564,000 Canadians are living with dementia.

That number is expected to rise by 60 per cent, to 937,000, within the next 15 years.

It’s hard to have a conversation with anyone these days who is not affected by the disease in some way, either directly or indirectly. And yet, there is still a stigma attached to the disease.

A press release from the Alzheimer Society this week stated “research indicates that one in four Canadians would feel ashamed or embarrassed if they had dementia.”

It’s sad to think that an uncontrollable, and to this point, unavoidable disease could be the source of shame and embarrassment.

Perhaps it’s because so many people have witnessed first-hand a once highly intelligent loved one regress to the mental capacity of a toddler. It’s a painful enough process for those witnessing the progression of the disease. It’s unimaginable to understand what dementia patients themselves are going through.

The ASC is hoping to shed some light on the experience, by asking dementia patients to come forward and speak publicly about their experience. Their stories will be shared via the Alzheimer Society’s nation-wide campaign, “I live with dementia. Let me help you understand.”

It launched Monday, Jan. 6 as part of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

“Unless you have experienced it firsthand, it can be difficult to appreciate the damage stigma can do to individuals and families facing dementia,” said Jane Hope, support and education co-ordinator for the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s North and Central Vancouver Island resource centre. “Too often, negative feelings, attitudes and stereotypes surrounding dementia dissuade people from seeking help and discourage others from lending their support.

“By providing a platform for Canadians to share their stories, we can cultivate empathy and compassion, and help break down the stigma so that Canadians living with dementia can live a full life.”

Visit ilivewithdementia.ca for more information on the campaign.

Go to alzheimer.ca to discover other ways you can help.

— Black Press

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