People with dementia are still people, and friends and family members shouldn't ignore them or underestimate their abilities — that's the message of a new social media campaign from the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

"The day you receive a diagnosis from your doctor, the minute you walk out of that office, you're no different," said Maria Howard, the CEO of the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

#StillHere

The message of the society's #StillHere campaign is that people can still live rich lives with dementia.

Howard said there still many misconceptions that abound — including the belief that it is a normal part of aging, when really dementia is a disease.

She also said that memory loss is not the only issue for people with dementia, as they can also have vision or mobility issues, and that a person's deterioration doesn't follow a predictable, steady path.

"Some people may decline very quickly, some people may have a few limitations and then sit steady."

"It means that for those around us to support those individuals and the families, we have to step out a little bit out of our comfort zone." - Maria Howard, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

Howard said that though the typical reaction people have after receiving a dementia diagnosis is shock and fear, she encourages people to think about it as an "opportunity to get more education and support, so that you can continue to have the quality of life in the way that is unique to you and the community you live in and your family."

"Yes things will change and that will be hard but perhaps those conversations and decisions and discussions with people who are close to you can happen at a time when it's really still good conversation as opposed to a crisis conversation."

A dementia friend

The Society is also encouraging people to become "dementia friends" by learning more about the disease and how to support those living with it.

Howard said that everybody needs community, and that even if a person can't talk it doesn't mean that they're not aware.

"They may be able to smile, they can hear, they can indicate connections with their eyes," she said.

"It means that for those around us to support those individuals and the families, we have to step out a little bit out of our comfort zone."

Howard said that many might feel uncomfortable talking with someone who has dementia, and not getting much response back, but she suggests taking a creative approach.

"Take another friend and go sit and visit together, and have coffee, the three of you. That person who may not be able to talk and chat I'm sure is probably very much aware of the conversation."


To hear the full story listen to the interview labelled: People with dementia are still people — spend time with them, says new Alzheimer Society campaign