This week is Seniors' Week, and Alzheimer Calgary is working to destigmatize preconceived ideas about Alzheimer's and dementia as part of their campaign to support any members of our aging population who may be diagnosed.
Alzheimer Calgary serves Calgary and the surrounding area including High River and Okotoks, and offers many supports including but not limited to:
- A team of social workers to help families who are impacted by dementia
- A guide to resources helping navigate the system to find supports
- An abundance of education programs
- An adult day program for people living with dementia
Executive Director of Alzheimer Calgary Barb Ferguson explained according to their local research, more than half of respondents said they had someone close to them develop Alzheimer's or another type of dementia. However, Ferguson wants to destigmatize the diagnosis and stresses that even if somebody you know has dementia, they can still live a meaningful and full life.
"Even after a diagnosis, most people will live on average, about 10 years after a diagnosis. So, you can still engage in some of the same activities that you once used to participate in. You may have to modify as the disease progresses; however, we really encourage people to pick up or stick to some of the activities that they once pursued," she said.
Ferguson added it's not just about sticking with what you used to do, as people with dementia can learn new things, like the arts and other creative projects. She considers this a big misconception that people have, that once you get dementia you can't learn new things.
Ferguson says another misconception is that you're not going to have a relationship with someone once they get dementia, but she strongly encourages people to maintain those relationships, even if they do change.
"You can still have a meaningful relationship with somebody with dementia. We like to focus on the strengths that still remain in somebody rather than what they've lost."
This message is highlighted by Alzheimer Calgary's "It's still me in here" campaign, which focuses on the fact that the person impacted by dementia is still the same person who enjoys the same things. This campaign also highlights how family or friends can support someone with dementia, as Ferguson explained engaging in these activities is a big help.
An image highlighting the "It's still me in here" campaign, which focuses on the fact that many people with dementia still enjoy the same activities they did before.
"I really encourage your family member who has dementia to maintain social connection. We see very poor outcomes for people if they tend to withdraw and isolate themselves."
"We know of people who are still golfing, playing tennis, going hiking. It helps somebody with dementia maintain as much of their identity as they possibly can."
Dementia is not a normal part of aging, but aging is the greatest risk factor for dementia. 57% of people said Alzheimer's and dementia are the health condition they fear the most in the future, according to Alzheimer Calgary's local research, and Ferguson said the best way to prevent this is to keep your body and mind active.
"What's good for your heart is also good for your brain. So maintaining great exercise levels and eating properly. Keep your brain active through reading, doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku, all of those types of things really can help build up your reserve and hopefully reduce some of your risk of developing dementia as you age.
Ferguson strongly encourages anyone with questions to reach out to them, as they hope to offer as much support as possible to anyone who may know someone with dementia, or if you have dementia yourself. You can find more information at their website alzheimercalgary.ca.