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Banishing the stigma around dementia

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The mind can be a powerful thing, and this month, it’s time to change people’s thinking that a dementia diagnosis spells the end of a person’s life.

The month of January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and for those at the Alzheimer’s Society of Durham Region, and across Canada, it’s the perfect time to focus on changing people’s mindset around dementia.

“There’s so much we can do to eliminate stigma and empower those who are living with dementia, but stigma is one of the greatest barriers that people living with dementia face,” says Denyse Newton, the executive director of the Alzheimer Society of Durham Region. “This year’s campaign is all about spreading the word, getting conversations started to help people see dementia differently.”

Newton says that when people think about dementia, minds immediately go to the later stages of the disease, when in reality, there are many stages of the disease, and people can live well for lengthy periods of time after their diagnosis. However, without converting people’s mindsets and shifting communities into more supportive roles for those living with the disease, there will continue to be barriers.

“It leads to the person living with dementia having a very difficult time to continue to live their life well,” Newton says. “The more that we can do to let people know that when people think about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, they often picture the advanced stages of the disease and a person can live with dementia for even up to 10 years or more in those early to moderate stages. So they can live a long period of time and we want them to be able to live well as long as they can in the community.”

This month, the Alzheimer’s Society will be hosting a number of informative events, including booths at the Oshawa Centre and other locations in Durham Region, along with a public lecture on Jan. 29 at the Oshawa Golf and Curling Club focused on helping people with memory issues and the importance of getting an early diagnosis. The lecture begins at 6:30 p.m.

“They can learn about the disease when they’re able to, they can plan for their future, so we’re really trying to get that message out,” Newton says.

With that said, Newton notes that things are already starting to shift in Durham Region with the Alzheimer Society providing training to businesses and municipalities on how to serve those with dementia.

“There’s more and more things happening in the community. Dementia was hidden for a very long period of time and we have to change that conversation,” she says.