January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

The Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. heralds January as its month to raise awareness about dementia and all dementia related diseases.

As January comes to an end, so does Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. The Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. heralds the month as its month to raise awareness about dementia and all dementia related diseases.

Tara Hildebrand is the support and education coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. and says it’s important to educate people on dementia and its different forms.

“One of the main questions I get asked in my office on a daily basis is ‘can you please tell me the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?’ And there isn’t a difference,” said Hildebrand. “Dementia is not a disease; dementia is a dictionary definition if you will. It describes a group of symptoms that cause a variety of conditions and the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.”

The Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. supports families dealing with all different forms of dementia. However, Alzheimer’s disease is the most prominent across B.C. as it accounts for 65 per cent of all diagnosed dementias in the province.

“People are surprised because they assumed that a diagnosis of dementia just means, oh this person forgets stuff. But a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is far more than that,” said Hildebrand. “It’s not just memory loss; it’s loss of brain function, so the person is losing abilities. When I teach workshops to families, I say a good way to think about it is this person is not only un-remembering, but they are unlearning as well.”

One of the aims of the awareness month is to inform families affected by the disease of the resources available to them, even in remote areas of the province.

“Families always need to know that there are opportunities to reach out. With the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C., we don’t have a resource centre in the East Kootenay, but we have a dementia help line anyone throughout the entire province can reach out to,” said Hildebrand, adding the help line can be reached at 1-800-936-6033 on Monday to Friday. “We also have tele-workshops that happen every single month. For those people living very remotely that even if there was a resource centre, can’t necessarily come to it and take workshops there, they can access it just through a telephone. It’s really nice for people, for example, living out on a ranch, 30 miles out of town.”

The tele-workshops are roughly 15 minutes long and provide information to people dealing with dementia-related diseases. There is usually time left for questions at the end of a session, and people can access the information on their website as well. Tele-support calls provide a similar resource for people in rural areas.

“Because we don’t have an actual resource centre in the East Kootenay, how do people access the support? This disease not only takes a lot of things away from the person with the diagnosis but the family as well. And there is a lot of isolation and we want to make sure that families understand that they have the ability to reach out and connect with others that are going through the same things that they are,” said Hildebrand. “The tele-support groups are very important as well. People call in and it’s like a conference call and rather than sitting in the same room, they are just on the telephone with each other. They can connect and share their stories and voice their concerns and talk about some of the issues that they are facing as a caregiver and hear other people’s examples as well.”

Another aim of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month is to inform the general public of the condition to battle against the stigma attached to it. Hildebrand says one of the long-term goals of the society is to make a more inclusive environment for those living with dementia.

“We ask people to take action and become a Dementia Friend and learn a little bit more about it so if they see somebody in their community that is struggling or trying to count out the money and they can’t quite do it, we help them rather than judge them. It’s about this inclusiveness,” she said.

More information about becoming a Dementia Friend or other resources available across B.C. are available at the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C.’s website, Alzheimer.ca/bc.