A national survey about Canadian's attitudes toward Alzheimer's and dementia shows awareness is up, but negative attitudes still persist around the diseases.

In November, the Alzheimer's Society of Canada surveyed about 1500 people who don't have Alzheimer's or dementia, asking their thoughts about the disease. Almost half said they would feel embarrassed if they had dementia.

Corrine Hendricken-Eldershaw, CEO of the Alzheimer's Society of P.E.I., spoke about the survey with Island Morning and highlighted four main points:

  • 46 per cent of those surveyed would feel ashamed or embarrassed to have dementia
  • 25 per cent feel friends and family would avoid them if they had dementia
  • 58 per cent believe people with dementia are likely ignored, dismissed or taken advantage of
  • 56 per cent are concerned about being affected by Alzheimer's disease

Sara MacLean, dementia education coordinator with the society, says she hopes to reduce the stigma around Alzheimer's and dementia by increasing public understanding about the disease.

'It does create barriers and there are some stereotypes that are out there.'— Corrine Hendricken-Eldershaw

There are a number of common misconceptions around the disease, she said, one of the largest being that people believe "life is essentially over" once they are diagnosed.

"We know that that's not true, that there are many people that are still able to do meaningful things and contribute to their society," MacLean said.

"Sometimes they require a little more encouragement." 

'We really need to move into sparking a conversation'

MacLean said family members play an important role in helping those with the illness, by being accommodating and remembering that the family member is "still the same person" they always were.

Hendricken-Eldershaw said misconceptions and stereotypes often create a barrier between those living with Alzheimer's and those who don't.

"It does create barriers and there are some stereotypes that are out there," she said.

"If we had a disease of any other organ, or we had a diagnosis of anything that was a terminal illness like Alzheimer's is, we would want to find out more information. We would want to do something about it."

"We really need to move into sparking a conversation. Let's see dementia differently."

CBC

Awareness and continuing the conversation is the focal point of the conference in Charlottetown this month, says Sara MacLean, left, and Corrine Hendricken-Eldershaw. (CBC)

Hendricken-Eldershaw sees the National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias Act as a positive sign. The act passed in mid-2017. 

"It's really, really exciting for us. We know there's going to be a large lens on awareness," she added.

Some of that awareness includes brain health, caregiver support, social stigma and healthcare professional training, she said.

"We've had a lot of research and documents and papers, and that's all really lovely; now we want the action and the traction on the ground."

In continuing to spread awareness and knowledge about the illness, the Alzheimer's Society of P.E.I. will host its sixth annual Alzheimer's Awareness Conference in Charlottetown on Jan. 22-23.

It will feature an education session as well as caregiver training and more.

For more information on the conference, visit the society's website.

With files from Island Morning