Alzheimer Awareness Month ends with January.
But dementia won't go away.
Founded 40 years ago, the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba (ASM) is a non-profit organization that exists, so all Manitobans affected by dementia receive the help they need today and have hope for the future.
Though there is no cure, there's care," says Rebecca Atkinson, South Central Regional Coordinator. "Life with dementia can be lived well and relationships can be maintained in positive ways, and new experiences can happen, and joy and the hobbies that you've done all your life can persist though different."
More than 19,600 Manitobans live with dementia today, a number that's expected to surpass 39,000 by the year 2050.
Living with dementia requires building a support network.
"Because we can't do it alone," points our Atkinson. "The Alzheimer's Society has this First Link to support you."
The First Link Client Support program offers a community of support including one-to-one counselling, support groups, education sessions and dementia-friendly programs.
"We hope that peers and friends and and organizations may notice changes and be brave enough and bold enough to say, 'May I give your name to the Alzheimer's Society, or how may I help? I'm noticing these changes.' And then we can directly resource and provide information and emotionally support families and individuals. And then it goes broader, where we have support groups and we get together where everybody's in the same room in the same boat. It's amazing to hear how people learn from each other."
There are several supports groups established throughout the Pembina Valley.
"We have 3 ongoing currently. We have Altona on the third Monday of the month at 11:30. We eat lunch together over it. That's at the Gardens on Tenth. Then on the fourth Monday of every month at the Morden Activity Center from 10 until noon. Then on the last Wednesday of every month in Carman at the Carman Active Living Center from 1:00 in the afternoon. They're strong groups and again they just help each other understand how to move forward in the best possible way."
Atkinson adds that it's important to be diagnosed as early as possible or understand that this is happening for you or your loved one in order to create a wide circle of support.
"So you can make plans and changes to how your future is going to unfold. If I'm a woman and my husband happens to have dementia and I'm caring for him, I'm still at risk of getting dementia. We might both end up with dementia. What that means is, I need more family, more friends, more community services and just general daily life businesses that I interact with to help us."
Since 1983, ASM has dedicated itself to being a reliable source of information, education and resources for people living with all types of dementia, their care partners and families. The Society has made significant strides in our community; however, dementia remains an incredibly challenging diagnosis.
"Here we are, 40 years later, and there is still more work to do to break the stigma surrounding this disease so that families feel more comfortable reaching out to us for support," says Erin Crawford, CEO of ASM. "Families [need to] realize that they don’t have to go through this alone."
Whereas the support groups serve as a resource where people can talk about the raw hard parts and encourage each other, the Society's Minds in Motion program is designed for fun, friendship and fitness for the person living with dementia and a partner.
"We sing, we play ukulele, we'll put on the music for the fitness," said Aktinson. "In Carman there's a dance happening at the same time that our Minds in Motion group is happening. We're definitely going to attend the dance at least once because dancing is very stimulating. If everybody learned to dance, pattern dancing, like waltzing two-step or more advanced, we could do a lot of prevention of dementia!"
Physical, cognitive and social stimulus to the max. That's how Atkinson describes the benefits of dancing.
"We really recommend it, using the community that's here. Manitou Opera House has these awesome dances almost once a month. And they're inclusive! They welcome young 'uns, they welcome all these elders that are dancing and teach you how to do it."
Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg offers a unique form of dementia music therapy - the Vivace Voices choir, led by Erin Lamb, a music therapy intern who has worked as a music facilitator in long term care for the past two summers.
Atkinson sees this as a great example of creating an environment of forgiveness and fun.
"So I love to sing. I may have dementia; I may forget some words. I may need some cues by someone beside me or by the choir director. That's a dementia friendly choir."
The bottom line according to Atkinson - everybody's got to be a dementia-friendly community.
"If you just want more information, there's a 75-minute module - 4 modules totaling 75 minutes, that's not very long. We can get the basics and and how to engage with someone and and help make a difference."
There's [also] a collection of Manitobans who are willing to share their stories. If you just want to read them on our website and there are some videos too that link to them that might help you understand what dementia looks like and that it's here."
You can read stories from Manitobans living with dementia at alzheimer.mb.ca/awareness2024.
Contact your local Alzheimer Society to learn more or get connected to support at 204-325-5634 (South Central) or 1-800-378-6699 (Provincial) or RAtkinson@alzheimer.mb.ca.
~With files from Nicole Klassen/Ronny Guenther~