Campaign aims to inform, dispel stigma around dementia

Across Burns Lake during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, brave and passionate voices are coming together to challenge attitudes and stop stigma and say, “Yes. I live with dementia. Let me help you understand.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Iris Vhal said, when asked about what she would say to someone on the dementia journey, in a Jan. 7 press release from the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia.

Iris was 74 when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009. Supporting Iris on the journey are her six children and their families; among them is her daughter Lanny, who explains that getting the diagnosis was a very important moment for the family. “We had to dig our heels in to get the testing done,” she says. “It confirmed that what my mother was experiencing wasn’t a normal part of aging.”

Iris reads constantly and has worked to stay active and engaged since her diagnosis, which has helps her deal with the challenges of the disease. There is much more to her than her disease and Iris has lots of life left to live.

That’s the basis of the Alzheimer Society’s nationwide campaign: Yes. I live with dementia. Let me help you understand. While there is no question that dementia is a challenge, it’s just one aspect of a person’s life story.

The campaign kicked into high gear on Jan. 7 and it showcases the diverse stories of individuals living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia across Canada. The aim of the drive is to change attitudes toward the disease and erase the stigma. Life continues after a diagnosis of dementia.

“We’re turning the conversation over to the experts,” says Sandra Meehan, Support and Education Coordinator at the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s Northern Interior, Skeena and Peace Region Resource Centre, which serves Burns Lake. “We believe sharing the stories of Canadians living with dementia will fuel a more open, supportive and inclusive dialogue about dementia and give confidence to others who have this disease to live their best lives.”

Research shows that stigma associated with dementia is rampant. In a survey commissioned by the Alzheimer Society last year, one in five Canadians said they would feel ashamed or embarrassed if they had dementia while one in five admitted to using derogatory or stigmatizing language about dementia.

In addition to helping Canadians better understand dementia, Alzheimer’s Awareness Month provides a platform for people like Sandy to define who they are as individuals, rather than being defined by the effects of the disease. Throughout January and the rest of the year, Burns Lake residents are invited to visit the campaign’s dedicated website to learn more about the people getting on with their lives, get tips on how to help end stigma, test their own attitudes towards dementia and download other useful resources from the Internet.

To learn more about the campaign and get involved, visit ilivewithdementia.ca.

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