February 19th, 2020

To Your Health: Stigma a huge issue for dementia patients

By GILLIAN SLADE on April 22, 2019.

Sunnyside Care resident Sheila Baker listens with rapt attention as Medicine Hat High School student, Riley Laursen, reads a story to her last week. It's a story Baker imagined from looking at a photo.


In the time it has taken you to read this someone in the world has developed dementia.

There are 50 million people across the world living with dementia and that number is expected to jump to 152 million by 2050, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) based on a worldwide survey that was published last week.

Dementia is the seventh leading cause of death in the world.

Stigma is one of the biggest issues.

ADI has commissioned a worldwide survey on people’s attitudes toward dementia. This will be undertaken by the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“It is hoped this survey and subsequent report will address stigma in all its forms, make clear what the consequences are for people living with dementia globally and what can be done about it,” said CEO Paola Barbarino in a press release.

The stigma is often perpetrated by ignorance and people not understanding the hurt it causes. That is hurt to the individuals affected and their loved ones.

ADI says in some parts of the world stigma results in people being “chained up and excluded from society.” In other parts of the world fear of receiving a diagnosis of dementia is making them delay seeking medical attention and getting a diagnosis.

In our community LEARN has been working on a new program with Medicine Hat High School. Students were matched up with individuals at Sunnyside Care Home for 11 one-hour sessions.

The program, developed by LEARN, focused on the fact that even though someone with dementia may have memory difficulties their imagination is intact. Exercising that imagination can bring pleasure.

Students would show several photos to the person with dementia and have them choose one to write a fictitious story about. As the Sunnyside resident talked about the photo the student would take notes and develop a story.

I think there is a practical application here for all of us. Sometimes we reduce time spent with loved ones who have dementia because we don’t know how to react, how to have a conversation with them.

I can recall a conversation I had with my mother-in-law. She was telling me something I knew was not factual. Now I wish I had entered into that conversation more – simply allowing her imagination to develop that story. It actually did not matter that the details she was speaking about were fictitious – it was a moment to engage with her.

Here’s to a greater understanding of those with dementia, ending stigma and here’s To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her at gslade@medicinehatnews.com or 403-528-8635.

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