Surrey resident Gina McCulloch’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007. (Photo:Bala Yogesh)

Surrey resident Gina McCulloch’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007. (Photo:Bala Yogesh)

Campaign aims to end stigma around dementia

Alzheimer Society of B.C. says it wants to spark conversations and help people see dementia differently

SURREY — At first, Gina McCulloch’s family didn’t give any thought to the word dementia.

It was 2004 and her father had just died, so McCulloch initially thought the changes in her mother’s behaviour was due to grief.

“It really signalled a decline and I noticed along these years that times of stress, trauma or illness, it will precipitate into further deterioration,” McCulloch said. “My mother never came out of that and showed increased signs of short-term memory loss and poor decision making was huge.”

It wasn’t until 2007 that the Surrey resident’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“She would suddenly forget how to cook or she would cook something for one minute instead of half an hour,” McCulloch said.

The Alzheimer Society of B.C., which just launched a campaign to end the stigma around dementia, says more than 500,000 Canadians have dementia – an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain.

The Alzheimer Society of B.C. says while awareness about dementia has increased, stigma and negative attitudes about it persist. For example, while the society estimates that 937,000 Canadians will have dementia in less than 15 years, a survey suggests 61 per cent of people feel they would face discrimination of some kind if they were diagnosed with it.

Avalon Tournier is a support and education co-ordinator for Alzheimer Society of B.C in the Surrey and the South Fraser region. She says the awareness campaign couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Stigma significantly affects the well-being of people living with dementia,” says Tournier. “In order to build a dementia-friendly society, we need to move away from fear and denial of the disease, towards awareness and understanding.”

The number of people with Alzheimer’s is growing – nearly 70,000 people in the province are said to be affected by some form of Alzheimer’s – and one reason may be that it is getting diagnosed more accurately in recent years. That’s why she says it’s important for caregivers and family members to connect with, rather than correct, those who are affected.

“All the times we start correcting the individual, they start to feel worse and worse about themselves,” Tournier said.

“We want to have the person have a positive life as they can and enjoy the time that they have.”