Nelson residents Dawn Sutcliffe and Stephen Fraser are just two of many Canadians stepping forward with their personal stories in the Alzheimer Society’s nation-wide campaign. Photo submitted

Nelson residents living with dementia break silence on stigma

Dawn Sutcliffe was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 60

Submitted by Alzheimer Society of B.C.

Nelson residents living with dementia are going public in an effort to change hearts and minds and tackle the ongoing discrimination they experience in their day-to-day lives.

Dawn Sutcliffe was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 60. Having seen her father’s dementia journey, she knew some of what to expect.

Sutcliffe’s longtime friend Stephen Fraser was surprised, though. For five years they’d sought out a specific diagnosis, thinking it was brain trauma or severe ADHD.

Having been a talented digital artist for many years, Sutcliffe has struggled with changes and challenges from the disease.

Since her diagnosis, they have sought support from the Alzheimer Society of B.C. and have been very forthcoming with the people around them. They’ve found many people they know have a personal connection of their own.

“The conversations I’ve had with people after the fact have been fabulous. I’ve been able to reconnect with old friends because of it,” Sutcliffe says.

Sutcliffe and Fraser are just two of many Canadians who are courageously stepping forward with their personal stories in the Alzheimer Society’s nation-wide campaign, I live with dementia. Let me help you understand. It launched Jan. 6 as part of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

Spurred by alarming research indicating that one in four Canadians would feel ashamed or embarrassed if they had dementia, the campaign gives a voice to Canadians living with dementia who are frustrated by the constant assumptions and misinformation associated with the disease.

“Unless you have experienced it firsthand, it can be difficult to appreciate the damage stigma can do to individuals and families facing dementia,” says Ruth Cordiner, support and education co-ordinator for the Alzheimer Society of B.C. in the West Kootenay.

“Too often, negative feelings, attitudes and stereotypes surrounding dementia dissuade people from seeking help and discourage others from lending their support. By providing a platform for Canadians to share their stories, we can cultivate empathy and compassion and help break down the stigma so that Canadians living with dementia can live a full life.”

Since the campaign theme was first used in 2018, more than 65 Canadians with dementia, including caregivers, have become spokespeople in the campaign, aimed at taking a stand against the stigma associated with the disease.

To read their stories and find out how you can help in the fight against dementia stigma, visit ilivewithdementia.ca. The site also features practical information and downloadable materials, including key myths and facts about the disease, as well as social media graphics to help spread the word about the campaign. Visitors to the site can also connect with the regional Alzheimer Society resource centre for help and support.

Through a host of programs and services, advocacy and public education, Alzheimer societies across the country are there to help Canadians overcome the challenges of living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. The society also funds research to improve care and find new treatments and a cure.

More than half a million Canadians are living with dementia today. Many more are family members who provide direct care or are otherwise affected by dementia. In the next 12 years, nearly a million Canadians will be living with dementia.

“The number of Canadians living with dementia is soaring,” says Cordiner. “So this is an extremely important campaign to pause and think about our attitudes and perceptions and build a more accepting and inclusive society for individuals and families living with dementia in Nelson and everywhere else in the West Kootenay.”

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