Brave voices challenge attitudes about dementia

“It was a life-changing moment for the whole family,” says Dona McMorland, referring to what happened when her husband Doug was diagnosed with dementia.

They had started to notice symptoms in 2001 while he was working for Surrey Memorial Hospital doing maintenance. “We had to totally re-think our future.”

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While Doug and Dona have received a lot of support from their family, including their son and two daughters, Dona has encountered some challenges with telling other people in their life.

“Because Doug’s progression has been so slow, some people didn’t believe that his diagnosis was real.”

Knowing they didn’t want to face the journey alone, Dona and Doug connected to the Alzheimer Society of B.C. to learn more about the disease and find support. In the process, they began a long relationship with the organization. Both Doug and Dona have volunteered, with Doug sharing his experience of the disease with others in support groups.

This year, Doug has moved into long-term care, but both of them try to remain active and engaged in their community and with the society.

“He’s still the same person,” Dona says. “People living with dementia are still there, still themselves – I want people to understand that.”

That’s the premise of the Alzheimer Society’s continuing nationwide campaign: Yes. I live with dementia. Let me help you understand. While there is no question that dementia is a challenging disease, it’s just one aspect of a person’s life story.

The campaign kicks into high gear during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month (January). It showcases the unique and diverse stories of individuals living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia across Canada. The aim of the campaign is to change attitudes toward the disease and erase the stigma. Life continues after a diagnosis of dementia.

“We’re turning the conversation over to the experts,” says Avalon Tournier, support and education coordinator at the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s Fraser Resource Centre, which serves Delta. “We believe sharing the stories of Canadians living with dementia will fuel a more open, supportive and inclusive dialogue about dementia and give confidence to others who have this disease to live their best lives.”

Research shows that stigma associated with dementia is rampant. In a survey commissioned by the Alzheimer Society last year, one in five Canadians said they would feel ashamed or embarrassed if they had dementia while one in five admitted to using derogatory or stigmatizing language about dementia.

In addition to helping Delta residents better understand dementia, Alzheimer’s Awareness Month provides a platform for people like Doug and Dona to define who they are as individuals, rather than being defined by the disease.

Throughout January and the remainder of the year, residents are invited to visit the campaign’s dedicated website to learn more about the people getting on with their life in spite of dementia, get tips on how to help end stigma, test their own attitudes towards the disease and download other useful resources.

Delta residents are invited to an open house at the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s Surrey Resource Centre, 201-15127-100th Ave., from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26 to hear Dona McMorland share her story and talk about the importance of raising awareness and challenging stigma.

To learn more about the campaign and get involved, visit

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