Imagine you’ve worked hard to build a career you love and a great social circle. Then you’re diagnosed with young onset Alzheimer’s disease. Instead of offering support, your friend makes a joke of your diagnosis. And then your friends don’t know what to say so they avoid conversation. You’ve changed, and so have people around you.
“It hurt,” says Kelowna resident Craig Burns, recalling the sense of disappointment that came along with losing someone close. “You lose a piece of yourself. You’ve invested a lot of time and energy in each other.”
Burns is one of thousands of people living with dementia who lost social connections when they needed them the most. He is also among British Columbians countering isolation by joining an Alzheimer Society of B.C. awareness campaign this fall to say, “Don’t change. Even if they do.”
The campaign aims at inspiring people to reflect on the ways they will continue to show up for the people in their lives who are living with dementia. An estimated 60 per cent of people with a diagnosis of dementia live in the community instead of in long-term care. Keeping relationships is essential to their well-being.
“We know that people living with dementia in the Cowichan Valley, and their caregivers, are facing more social isolation than ever,” says Alzheimer Society of B.C. interim CEO Barbara Lindsay. “The best thing we can all do to support anyone living with dementia is not change, even if they do. Keep visiting. Keep calling or FaceTiming. Even during COVID, we need to maintain our connections to people living with dementia to show that they’re not alone.”
As a part of the campaign, the Society is asking the public to visit www.dontchange.ca to pledge how they’ll continue to stay connected to people affected by dementia. There, website visitors can learn about the campaign, watch powerful videos illustrating the impact small actions can have on the lives of people living with dementia, and connect to local help and support from the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
For Burns, the pain of the lost friendship has given way to gratitude for the close friends that remain in his life.
“My friends keep me going, even the ones I talk to weekly over Skype,” he says. “We support each other. I feel like I’m a part of the mix. I’m still relevant.”
He also appreciates the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s “Don’t change. Even if they do” campaign for encouraging area residents to continue staying connected to the people living with dementia in their lives.