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Alzheimer Calgary breaks down misconceptions about dementia

Alberta’s Seniors’ Week runs from June 5 to 11

Alzheimer Calgary is working to show the community that those living with dementia can still enjoy the same activities they had prior. // Submitted

“Aging is more.”

That’s the theme of this year’s Seniors’ Week across Alberta from June 5 to 11, which reminds people that misconceptions about aging and age-related diseases still exist.

Barb Ferguson, executive director at Alzheimer Calgary, says age is one of the biggest risk factors for developing dementia, which is important to Calgary’s fastest-growing age group—seniors.

Ferguson says it’s vital that people take time to educate themselves on dementia and break away from the misconceptions that surround it.

“We often associate it with memory loss,” Ferguson says. “It’s really beyond that, it’s when people can’t function day to day.”

This includes challenges with thinking and decision-making, communication difficulties, and changes in mood or behaviour.

These are daily challenges for those living with dementia, but it should not limit their quality of life, Ferguson notes.

“Many will just partake in the same activities that they engaged in before,” she says, adding that can include sports, music, art, family events, and more.

“It’s really important that if people are capable of engaging in their familiar activities that they continue to do so.”

Same, but different

Kim Brundrit is the collective impact lead at Dementia Network Calgary. Brundrit is very familiar with dementia, not only from her professional experience, but from personal experience.

Brundrit’s mother was diagnosed with dementia over a decade ago but she doesn’t let it keep her from participating in the same experiences she had prior.

“It might look a little different,” Brundrit says. “Just continue to engage with them and think about what they enjoy or enjoyed. You might have to modify it, but you can still have really meaningful interactions.”

Brundrit says her mother loves to cook even though she isn’t able to prepare a full dinner anymore, but she helps with smaller tasks to stay involved.

“It’s hard to watch people stay away from her life and from their relationship with her and my dad because they don’t know how to interact or how to communicate with her,” Brundrit adds.

Media’s portrayal

Dementia affects each person differently, but many movies and TV shows don’t fully portray this.

“They focus on the end, typically,” Brundrit says.

“Wouldn't it be great if there was a TV show where the main character had dementia, and it wasn't all terrible and horrible, and they were still doing things they loved and they were well supported?” Brundrit says.

“People forget that you can live for 20 years with dementia and still participate in things that you love and things that you enjoy.”

Care for caregivers

Family members are often the caregivers for someone with dementia, but Brundrit says it’s important for caregivers to also take time for themselves.

“My dad is my mom’s primary caregiver, and he doesn’t do that [prioritize himself] very well,” Brundrit laughs.

“It becomes an all-consuming job, and you have to remember that your life and your interests and things that you love to do are still just as important as they were before you became a caregiver.”

Ferguson says Alzheimer’s Calgary has a program that can help caregivers take a break.

“We run an adult day program and it's called Club 36. It provides social recreational opportunities for families impacted by dementia and we do a lot of creative programming. A day program also offers respite for the family caregiver,” Ferguson says.


Although conversation around dementia is opening up, it’s still got a long way to go Brundrit says, comparing it to the misconceptions that used to exist around cancer.

“Years ago, when someone had cancer, it was like ‘oh my god, you have cancer’ and everyone would scatter. Now it's the exact opposite,” Brundrit says.

“People have learned how to support someone in a whole bunch of different ways, and I think we're not there yet with dementia because the fear and the stigma are so strong that it prevents people from being supportive.”

Brundrit says these types of responses to dementia can change.

“The more we talk about it, the more we show people living well with dementia in the community… I think that perception will start to change.”

At Alzheimer Calgary, Ferguson says there are many resources and programs available for people to learn more about dementia.

“It takes a whole community, and there’s a number of people who work in this field to support families and people living with dementia,” Ferguson adds.

It’s still me in here

Alzheimer Calgary’s “It’s still me in here” campaign aims to show the community that people living with dementia are still themselves.

A recent study found that 57 per cent of Calgarians say Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are the health conditions they fear most in the future.

However, people with dementia often retain their personality and interests.

Brundrit says her mother has changed but she’s still the same person.

“She’s super polite, always has a kind word to say, and always has a Kleenex in her pocket just in case somebody needs it.”


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