More than 400 attendees at a breakfast gathering Thursday morning in Halifax learned some new strategies for dealing with people who have dementia. 

The topic of the talk by dementia care and education specialist Teepa Snow was creating "dementia-friendly communities." Snow, an occupational therapist from North Carolina, said her message is about changing the way people interact. 

"As a community we want to be friendly to people who are living with dementia because the numbers are going up, and we know that life worth living involves those individuals and their families being in the community," she said. 

Using humour and song, Snow demonstrated aspects of dementia such as a loss of peripheral vision and disorientation. She offered tips like approaching patients from the side rather than the front or back, which could be seen as confrontational or surprising. 

"The person who needs to make the most change is us, rather than asking people with dementia to behave themselves and do things that they used to be able to do but they can't do right now," she said. 

Nova Scotia's health minister, Leo Glavine, attended the breakfast, as did members of the business community, according to Lloyd Brown, the executive director of the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia. 

'We've got to get ready'

Brown said about 17,000 Nova Scotians have dementia and that number is expected to double within the next 10 to 20 years. 

"More Nova Scotians than ever before are aging, and age is the primary risk factor for any of the dementias, and so consequently we're going to see this dramatic rise. And we've got to get ready for it," he said. 

Faye Forbes of Windsor Junction said she's doing "fantastic" since being diagnosed with Alzheimer's five years ago. 

Forbes said she's experienced moments of disorientation such as bumping into things, losing words, and needing people to slow down while talking. She said her family has been extremely supportive and loving, which is what dementia patients need.

"Be gentle about things, and maybe they can let down their guard enough to say, 'I need help,'" she said.