Dementia can be cruel.
For the estimated 747,000 Canadians suffering from various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, even simple activities such as going shopping for food can be an ordeal. While most people with dementia are over the age of sixty-five, some conditions can strike even earlier which may make it difficult for others to recognize what is happening. Since the number of people with dementia is expected to skyrocket over the next twenty years, providing them with the help they need to function is more essential than ever.
Which is why the Canadian government and the Alzheimer's Society of Canada have launched a new initiative: the Dementia Friends program. Part of an international movement inspired by the Dementia Friends United Kingdom program, and modeled after Japan's Dementia Supporters, the program allows Canadians to learn more about dementia and to register as a Dementia friend. In announcing the program, Health Minister Rona Ambrose declared that "Our Government understands the tremendous impact dementia has on those diagnosed with it, their families and their communities. Dementia Friends Canada will change the way we think, act and talk about dementia in this country. I encourage all Canadians to become a dementia friend and help make life better for Canadians affected by it.”
According to the press release, Dementia Friends Canada will focus on recruiting volunteers, whether on an individual basis or through participating businesses. As part of the launch, the Canadian Bankers Association and Credit Union Central of Canada have pledged their support and urge other businesses to contact the Alzheimer's Society of Canada to take part in the campaign.
To become a Dementia friend, the program's website provides a simple three-step process that begins with watching an online video describing the warning signs of dementia. These can include loss of memory, disorientation, problems speaking, and abrupt changes in mood or behaviour. After viewing the video, you can then register to become part of the society's mailing list and to agree to apply what you've learned in real life.
Dementia friends are encouraged to become more sensitive to the problems that many dementia patients often experience when they are out in public. Though many people with dementia are still able to function independently, at least in the early stages, they can run into problems when doing routine tasks such as shopping or going out with friends. Simple actions like being patient, speaking slowly and calmly, and asking easily understood questions can help people with dementia and keep them from feeling overwhelmed.
The program website also contains a number of useful resources to encourage greater awareness about dementia. This includes a list of common myths about different forms of dementia as well as tips on how to communicate with people experiencing memory problems. Above all else, we are encouraged to "see the person, not the disease", learning about dementia and how to deal with those people in need will help ensure that they can live their lives with the dignity to which they are entitled.