June 1, 2019

Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

June is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, which turns our attention to this prevalent disease that over 564,000 Canadians are living with. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, which is a term for brain disorders that cause memory loss, inability to perform simple or complex tasks, speech changes, vision and perception changes. It is caused by various physical changes, some of which are reversible or treatable, and some that are not. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and is not reversible or treatable at this time. The exact cause is unknown, but ongoing research is being done to not only diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s but also to reverse and prevent it.  As more people are diagnosed each year, awareness, public programs, and reduction of stigma surrounding this condition are increasingly important.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not a normal part of aging. Normal aging can bring some difficulty with memory, occasional loss of names or words, being unable to recall details of conversations or events that happened years ago or being worried about memory. In contrast, those that have dementia forget things very frequently, are unable to recall details of recent events, are unable to recognize or don’t know the names of family members and are unaware of their memory issues while the people closest to them may be concerned.

Though diagnosis can be devastating and life-altering, a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s does not mean life is over. Often, people living with this disease lead to meaningful, productive lives that can set examples of successful navigation of the disease and reduce stigma. An example of effective advocacy that has made a difference for people with dementia is the Dementia Friendly Communities program. These are communities that take initiative to educate themselves on Alzheimer’s and dementia, how to support those with the disease and their families, and create accessible and inclusive spaces. They have created training and scenarios for those that work in kitchens, businesses, banks, and public transit, which can prompt understanding and engagement in assistance to those that are vulnerable, and their families. This is only one example of how a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be a catalyst for positive change and hope for the future. I challenge you this month to think about the opportunities for you or loved ones to be a force for positive change, advocacy, or reducing stigma through your own experiences or stories if you are living with a diagnosis, know someone living with it, or are acting as a caregiver to someone with it.

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be a complex and demanding task that is frustrating, confusing, and exhausting physically and emotionally. If you are a caregiver, it is important to get the support you need- it is far too insurmountable to deal with this alone. Ask family and friends to assist, use the healthcare resources available, and prepare for the future. You can find out what agencies and community supports are available in your community by visiting the Alzheimer Society of Canada website or call the ARTA Cares Program at 1-888-327-1500.

For more reading, see June is Alzheimer’s Brain Awareness Month blog post

By Hailie Rondeau, RN

ARTACares is provided by HumanaCare, an Alberta-based health and wellness provider with more than thirty-five years of Canadian health care experience.