Building awareness to address stigma was the primary objective of Geoff and Annemarie Travers’ Camino for Alzheimer’s Awareness.
Last fall the Sidney couple walked 900 km together from near Montpellier, France to Lugrono, Spain, and Geoff walked an additional 600 km westward to Santiago de Compostela. The experienced distance walkers purposely chose a longer distance as a reflection of the long and arduous journey experienced by people living with dementia – and their caregivers.
The Sidney couple raised more than $11,500 in support of people affected by the disease.
Geoff and Annemarie were inspired by personal experiences of the disease. Geoff’s sister Kathy lives with dementia, and her journey motivated the couple to connect with the Alzheimer Society of B.C. first for education, then to support others. As well as the Camino for Alzheimer’s Awareness, Annemarie is also a volunteer facilitator for a caregiver support group in Sidney.
In addition to capturing the beauty of the countryside, they focused on the parallels between the challenges of the walk and the challenges experienced by people living with dementia and their caregivers.
Some days it was difficult climbs or sudden changes in terrain. Other days they struggled with language or being lost and alone. They shared Kathy’s personal insights into the disease and found that the more they opened doors and engaged people in conversation about dementia, the more helpful they could be in addressing people’s fears and concerns.
For Geoff and Annemarie, the Camino for Alzheimer’s Awareness reinforced the importance of being open about one’s experience with dementia in order to change that experience.
“It’s best if you talk about it,” Annemarie says. “Understanding the challenges, being open about them and talking with others is the best way to deal with them.”
That’s the premise of the Alzheimer Society’s continuing nationwide campaign: Yes. I live with dementia. Let me help you understand.
The campaign kicked into high gear this month, which is recognized as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. 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.
“We’re turning the conversation over to the experts,” says Gabriela Townsend, support and education co-ordinator at the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s Greater Victoria Resource Centre in Saanich. “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 Canadians better understand dementia, Alzheimer’s Awareness Month provides a platform for people like Geoff and Annemarie to broadly share their learning and experiences.
Visit the campaign’s dedicated website, ilivewithdementia.ca, 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.