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PG residents living with dementia break silence on stigma in Alzheimer Society campaign

Landon Short

Prince George 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.

Landon Short was 11 years old when his grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“My dad sat me down and told me she had a brain disease, and she was going to become more forgetful,” he says.

Landon was close with his grandmother, a schoolteacher who had been responsible for him learning to read. That early experience with her inspired him to go to university, where he received a biochemistry and molecular biology degree in 2016. He plans to continue his education by studying medicine.

Landon’s experience of his grandmother’s disease also led him to become a Minds in Motion® volunteer with the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s social and fitness program for people living with dementia and their care partners.

“Volunteering made me feel like I was connecting with her,” he says.

Landon has volunteered with the Society for three years, and this year is being honoured with an award for his dedication to supporting people in his community who are living with dementia. He says volunteering is fun and something he looks forward to every week.

“I was interested because of the dementia connection, but also because I am passionate about exercise and playing games and I want to be able to share that with people.”

Landon’s experience with Minds in Motion® has him considering focusing on geriatric medicine when he continues his education.

He hopes people will understand that dementia is progressive and is different for everyone. “People don’t get a diagnosis and suddenly everything’s gone,” he says. “Things change over time but they’re still the same people they always were.”

Landon is one 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 Monday, January 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 Laurie DeCroos, Support and Education Coordinator for the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s North Interior, Skeena and Peace Region resource centre in Prince George.

 “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, visitilivewithdementia.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 DeCroos. “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 Prince George and everywhere else in the North Interior, Skeena and Peace region.”

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