Some 747,000 Canadians are living with dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the most common form. That means just about every family in Canada has been, or will be, touched by dementia.
Since there is no guaranteed means of prevention, every one of us risks receiving a diagnosis of dementia. And while there is currently no cure or means of halting dementia, there are treatments that address symptoms.
January is Alzheimer Awareness Month, an ideal time to better understand the disease and to promote awareness of it. Awareness is absolutely key, because if you don’t know you’re living with dementia, you won’t try to find the medications that can slow the decline or get available social supports.
Since individuals living with dementia so often fail to recognize the presence of the condition, it’s up to all of us to be able to identify the signs of dementia in those who are near to us. Memory loss is perhaps the most common and obvious symptom, but we should be aware of confusion, mood swings and difficulties communicating, among others.
When it comes to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, stigma poses one of the biggest challenges. Misconceptions can lead to denial or the belief that it’s a normal part of the aging process. It is not. Further, exclusion, whether imposed or self-imposed, can lead to depression and accelerate the rate of decline.
Like any illness, we must never reduce a human being to a condition. Doing so denies their individuality and their ability to continue to contribute. People’s uniqueness can fade behind a haze of labels and symptoms and medical terms. The unfortunate result can be a reduction of an individual’s will and ability to manage the changes brought about by the disease.
We also warmly salute all those OPSEU members who, whether professionally or in their personal lives, care for those living with dementia and work to improve the length and quality of their lives.
But our members and all Ontarians need the government’s help: More funds must be allocated to home care. Keeping people living with dementia at home makes sense from every point of view, including fiscally: Institutional care is far more costly than care in the home. And outcomes are virtually always better when a person continues to be surrounded by the people and objects they cherish.
Over this month, take a few moments to find out more about Alzheimer’s. You owe it to yourself to be informed so that, should someone close to you tell you they’ve been diagnosed with dementia, you’ll be equipped to give them the reassurance and support they need.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida