Changing perceptions

By Jenn Watt

Our expectations of people and their capabilities – and inherent value – can do much to improve or hinder their lives.

The way we perceive those around us and the respect we afford those people matters in how their time in the world plays out.

And while most of us know this to be true a recent survey by Nanos found that 47 per cent of respondents do not believe people with Alzheimer’s disease can live good lives.
The poll kicked off the Alzheimer Society of Canada’s January campaign: #StillHere.

The name of the campaign highlights the theme but the website gives devastating examples from those with the disease and members of their families about how their lives changed because of society’s views following diagnosis.
“My husband is a greeter at our local church” one woman told the society. “But people ask me all the time ‘How can he do that? He has Alzheimer’s.’”
The implication being that those with dementia cannot continue to perform tasks that they once did that they cannot live alone or make decisions for themselves.

Likely the responses to the survey came as much from people’s fear of memory loss in their own lives as their experience with those who have it. The result of that perspective however is that people who have the disease are treated as though they’re unimportant and their opinions and wishes no longer matter.

The Alzheimer Society dispels many of the common myths about the disease on their website:
For example while Alzheimer’s is known for loss of memory changes in mood behaviour and judgement are often the first signs of the disease. Medications can improve symptoms but cannot slow the disease’s progression and those as young as their 30s can be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

According to the society as of five years ago 15 per cent of those over 65 have Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Due to the rising seniors’ demographic in Canada by 2031 1.4 million Canadians will have the disease.
Which is why it’s important that we strive to better understand Alzheimer’s and those living with the disease as we continue to fund research to eventually cure it.
As Pia Kontos a scientist who has spent her career working on dementia states in a recent society release: “Our cognitive abilities alone do not define us. People with dementia can continue to engage with the world in many other meaningful ways. And supporting their dignity and worth improves their well-being and quality of life.”