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Dementia Friends Canada Wants to Change How You Think About Dementia

Kimberley Fowler
By Kimberley FowlerAugust 26, 2015

A Place for Mom recently spoke with the Alzheimer Society of Canada to learn more about an exciting new initiative — Dementia Friends Canada which is helping to dispel myths and reduce stigma, while changing the way we think, talk and act about dementia. Here’s what we learned.

Dementia is a feared word that many Canadians know little about. Yet it affects 747,000 of us — husbands, wives, grandparents, parents, siblings, friends. Chances are you know someone with dementia — three out of four Canadians do. Dementia does not discriminate. No, it isn’t a normal part of aging, although it is linked with age. After 65 the risk of developing dementia doubles every 5 years.

Dementia Versus Alzheimer’s Disease

There is much confusion about these terms. Dementia generally describes a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. These include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. A person with dementia may also experience changes in mood or behaviour. Because dementia is a progressive disease, these symptoms will worsen over time. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for over two thirds of Canadians living with dementia today, and the number of Canadians with dementia is expected to increase to 1.4 million by the end of 2031.

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Women are Doubly Affected

Women represent 72% of Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease. That’s because women usually live longer than men and age remains the biggest risk factor. Women also make up 70% of family caregivers. So, if you’re a woman, chances are you will be affected by dementia in some way.

Dementia Awareness is Low

The average Canadian doesn’t know very much about dementia. In a 2010 survey conducted by the Alzheimer Society, 50% of those polled believed memory loss is the only sign of dementia and 23% couldn’t name any of the 10 warning signs.

If dementia affects so many Canadians, then why don’t we know more about it?

Fear and misinformation could be a reason, which in turn, fuels stigma. In fact, in another survey,

60% of Canadians said “it would be difficult to admit if they or someone close to them had Alzheimer’s.”

Dementia Friends Canada is Changing All of This

“People with dementia are people first and with our understanding and support, can still live well and be active in their communities,” says Mimi Lowi-Young, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

That’s why Lowi-Young is excited to partner with the Government of Canada to bring Dementia Friends to Canadians. Modeled after programs in Japan and the United Kingdom, Dementia Friends is designed to help Canadians better understand what it’s like to live with dementia and turn that knowledge into actions to help those it affects. A deeper understanding combined with a change in attitude will go a long way in improving the quality of life for people with dementia.

Want to help make a positive change? Follow these steps to become a Dementia Friend:

  1. Visit the bilingual website.http://www.dementiafriends.ca/
  2. Watch the video. It features a powerful performance by well-known Canadian actor Eric Peterson. In less than two minutes, you’ll learn about dementia symptoms and simple ways you can help someone living with the disease.
  3. Register.
  4. Commit to an action. Some actions are small like sharing the video on social media. Many Dementia Friends are posting pictures of themselves holding a note “I’m a Dementia Friend.” Post your own selfie and help spread Dementia Friends socially, using the handle #BecomeAFriend. Larger actions include volunteering with or donating to your local Alzheimer’s Society, or becoming a Dementia Ambassador which is like being a super Dementia Friend. Dementia Ambassadors have an account with a dashboard that allows them to set and track goals.

Whether you commit to a small or large action, speak up, share and promote dementia awareness. The more we talk about dementia, the more we can reduce the stigma.

Do You Know Someone with Dementia?

It’s important that you can recognize the signs of dementia and know how to positively interact with someone exhibiting these. Visit the Dementia Friends Canada website, or Facebook  page, or visit the Alzheimer Society of Canada website to learn more.

If you know someone with dementia, remember to be supportive. People with a recent diagnosis sometimes find their friends and family will quickly distance themselves. Staying close and supporting someone you know can make a huge difference. Don’t forget, there are many helpful resources in your community, including your local Alzheimer Society.

There is Life After a Dementia Diagnosis

Many people who think about dementia automatically picture a person in the late to end stages of the disease; for example, someone who is bedridden. While the progression of the disease differs from individual to individual, dementia doesn’t happen overnight. There is lots of life left after a diagnosis. You can help someone who has been diagnosed live as fully as possible by being a Dementia Friend.

Join Dementia Friends Canada today. You will not only help shed more light on this disease but help someone you know or care about who has it.

How do you dispel myths and reduce the stigma of dementia? Share your suggestions with us in the comments below.

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Kimberley Fowler
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Kimberley Fowler
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