Half a million Canadians are living with dementia, but many are hiding their illness from their friends and community out of fear. A new study is hoping to break through the stigma.
University of B.C. researchers Alison Phinney and Deborah O’Connor have teamed up with Jim Mann, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 12 years ago, to spend the next four years speaking with British Columbians who are living with dementia and find out exactly what barriers exist.
Mann’s life was first touched by Alzheimer’s in the early 2000s, when his mother had dementia. He was later diagnosed with the same disease in 2007.
“When you receive a diagnosis of dementia, it is too easy to retreat and assume an inability to remain positive,” Mann said.
Since then, Mann has been an active voice in the dementia community, volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. and spreading awareness about memory-loss symptoms.
While dementia is not a specific disease itself, it is an overall term for symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. There are four main kinds of dementia, but as many as 50 similar types.
Symptoms can include memory loss, difficulties with thinking or problem-solving, and misunderstanding language. Because dementia is progressive, the symptoms will gradually get worse as more brain cells become damaged.
Roughly 25,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. The Alzheimer’s society said by 2031, as many as 937,000 Canadians will be living with the illness.
The aim of the UBC-based study is to develop ways to support dementia patients in being social and active in their communities.
“There is a life to live after a diagnosis of dementia,” Mann said.
Anyone wishing to take part can contact the research team by email or call 604-551-0459.