January is known as Alzheimer's Awareness Month, which is the most common form of dementia. Here is an opportunity to learn how to get help, and how to break negative stereotypes of the cognitive disability.
Approximately 18,400 Manitobans are diagnosed with some form of dementia right now, according to Erin Crawford, program director at Alzheimer Society of Manitoba (ASM). The organization believes that by 2050 that number will double. It is with this increase of the illness that alerts for a greater need for resources, support and to erase the stigma that comes with it.
"It is fundamentally a progressive terminal disease that affects the brain in a way that ultimately it can no longer function the way that it once did," says Crawford.
The word "dementia" is used as an umbrella term to describe all types of the disorder—according to the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba, there are eight.
Even though the name of the organization might be misleading, they tackle all forms of dementia, to help provide a better quality of life for those who suffer from the cognition-altering disorder.
There are several symptoms that are related to dementia, and Crawford shares some of the most notable ones.
"The most common one that people are probably familiar with is memory loss, and if someone is experiencing memory loss we would encourage them to go and talk to their doctor about it because it can be hard early on to judge for yourself whether it is this or standard age-related memory loss."
She notes that there is a difference between someone forgetting their car keys and someone whose daily activities are constantly affected by their memory loss.
"There's other symptoms of dementia too that people aren't as familiar with, so that can be disorientation. Perhaps not quite being able to place yourself in time and space. So, maybe you have the year wrong, but you don't just not remember the year, you're a bit disoriented in terms of what year you actually are in, the space that you're in."
Other examples of disorientation include not recognizing the house someone resides in, and not being familiar with people at the moment.
Another symptom of dementia is a change in mood, Crawford says that someone who is normally calm might become more agitated.
There are also stigmas that deter people from getting involved with family members, loved ones or anyone else who might be diagnosed with a type of dementia.
Crawford says that a lot of families she works with say they are fearful of the process that leads up to the diagnosis, and once it's done it brings some form of relief but then there are other emotions that begin to arise, such as fear of judgement and isolation.
"What sometimes happens is people will not continue to stay connected, particularly with say, friends or casual acquaintances because of that worry about 'what if something happens?' 'What if I do or say something and forget?' 'What if I make a mistake?'"
This is where people with dementia are seen to give up the willingness to continue living a good quality life.
"They don't want people to feel sorry for them. They don't want people to worry about them."
But it is positive connections, whether it's with people, animals, or an activity, that encourage good health and to live a better quality of life.
The ASM offers resources to help create those positive connections with its First Link program, which is a client support resource.
No matter where people are in their dementia diagnosis, they offer help by having a one-on-one conversation to find out what worries the caller is having, and through that conversation, the people at ASM determine what resources they should offer the client.
They offer support groups, for both those who are diagnosed and their care partners, education sessions led by experts in the field, different aspects of the healthcare system that they will need to get familiar with as they continue their dementia journey, and the effects of the illness itself and the challenges they will likely have to face at some point.
For more information about Alzheimer's Disease, dementia, and the First Link program, visit the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba website.