January is dementia awareness month

January is dementia awareness month

Across Houston, brave and passionate voices come 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 says, when asked about what she would say to someone on the dementia journey.

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 an incredibly 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.”

An avid reader, Iris has worked to stay active and engaged since her diagnosis, something that has helped her deal with the changes and challenges of the disease. There is much more to Iris than her disease and she has lots of life left to live.

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

The campaign kicked into high gear on Jan. 7, 2019 during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. It showcases the unique and diverse stories of individuals living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia across Canada. The aim of the campaign 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 Houston. “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 impact of the disease. Throughout January and the remainder of the year, Houston residents are invited to visit the campaign’s dedicated website to learn more about the people getting on with their life in spite of dementia, get tips on how to help end stigma, test their own attitudes towards the disease and download other useful resources.

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