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This article was published 19/1/2021 (314 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Many Manitobans live with some form of dementia.
The Alzheimer Society of Manitoba is currently running its 2021 Alzheimer’s Awareness Month campaign. The theme of the campaign is, "I Live with Dementia."
For the last several years, the society has highlighted stories of Manitobans who live with dementia in an effort to address the ongoing stigma associated with the disease, whether it’s individuals living with the disease, or their caregivers and loved ones.
According to a news release, more than 23,000 Manitobans are currently living with dementia, and there are many more family members, of course, who provide direct care. In fact — it’s predicted that nearly one million Canadians will have dementia in the next 12 years.
Wendy Schettler, the chief executive officer of the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba, told The Lance that individuals often see themselves in the stories the society shares, which helps them realize they are not alone. Another key message she said the society wants to convey is that, just because one is diagnosed with dementia, "it doesn’t mean that life is over."
"It doesn’t mean that you can’t still contribute to your community," said Schettler, who lives in Norwood Flats. "It’s really important for you to know that you’ve got a lot of good living left to do, whether it’s in your family, friendship or community circles. It really helps when we understand what dementia is."
Schettler said because it’s a long-term and ever-changing illness, this can make things challenging for the sufferer and the caregiver. In the beginning, she said, the disease can be there for years before it starts to show: "In terms of the signs, in the majority of cases it’s a subtle change over a period of time. It can take years for things to change in the brain, as the cells begin to die and start causing changes."
In some individuals, the disease will start to cause mild cognitive impairments, such as slowly failing memory, an increasing sense of confusion, or difficulty multi-tasking, Schettler said, adding it’s important to get checked out and get an assessment done early if individuals are in any doubt, which will increase their chances of managing the disease and also "have a voice as things start to change."
"I’m encouraging people to reach out to us if they need help and take advantage of our programs and services. That’s why we’re here," Schettler said.
She added that the vast majority of the society’s funding comes through donations. "And like everyone else around the world, we’ve been impacted by the pandemic."
Tannis Ehinger lost her 61-year-old mother, Norma, to Alzheimer’s disease in June 2018.
In her mom’s case, Ehinger said there were a few warning signs prior to her being diagnosed. These included forgetting to pay bills or double-paying them, misplacing items, becoming confused when making and receiving phone calls, and having trouble coming up with the right words and misspelling them.
She is grateful to the society for its support during what was an incredibly difficult time for her family.
"The society provided us with information on what to expect as the disease progressed and provided us with support as we reached a new stage of the disease," Ehinger, who lives in Sage Creek, said.
"My mom attended regular support groups with other individuals with dementia. The society also provides support and guidance to caregivers, family and friends. The society has many resources — programs and information sessions and seminars for families, individuals and health-care professionals."
Ehinger, 33, encourages other Manitobans to be proactive in seeking help and opening up about the disease.
"It’s important to be an advocate, ask questions and know there is support out there," Ehinger said.
"Opening up and talking about it has made a big difference to me, especially as so many people are affected by this — it could be someone at work or in society at large. This no longer has to be the elephant in the room. Since my mother died, I’ve talked to lots of people and heard their stories, and I’m hoping my story can help others."
In light of the impact Alzheimer’s disease has had on her, Ehinger said it’s important for her to continue to volunteer for the society and participate in its annual walk with family in memory of her mom.
On the society’s website, Ehinger shares several pieces of advice with readers, which include: think about starting a memory book to help record as many memories and pictures as possible; know that experiencing dementia will make families stronger; think about different ways to connect and show the individual they aren’t forgotten due to pandemic-related visiting restrictions; and exercise the brain by doing things like puzzles or learning new skills.
Go online at alzheimer.mb.ca for more information.
Simon Fuller is the reporter/photographer for The Lance. Canstar’s senior reporter, he joined the team in June 2009 to write for The Sou’wester, which was then the new paper in the Canstar family.