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Willing to help someone with dementia? Alzheimer Society, feds launch campaign

WATCH: A new Canadian program is trying to change the quality of life for people lving with dementia. Heather Yourex reports.

At only 18 years old, Daniela Coelho became her grandmother’s caregiver when the senior was diagnosed with dementia.

Coelho had to learn on the fly about the 74-year-old’s disease after her family received the news. Four years later, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“We knew so little about dementia, we didn’t understand the gravity of what it really meant. There was no guidebook given to us on how to support her as best as we could,” Coelho, now 26, told Global News.

Coelho remembers a traumatic hour searching for her grandma after she wandered out of their family home. Ultimately, she was located in a grocery store.

READ MORE: What are the early warning signs and symptoms of dementia?

Neighbours told the family that they saw the senior leave the home, but didn’t approach her. Coelho doesn’t blame them – it was early days, so it’s hard to tell if her grandma needed help and how to assist her.

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A new Alzheimer Society of Canada and Public Health Agency of Canada initiative is hoping to change that hesitancy. The new program, called Dementia Friends Canada, is aiming to recruit one million Canadians who will learn more about the disease, so they can raise awareness about how to help those living with dementia around them.

READ MORE: Inside the world of dementia, as a painful reality sets in

The joint venture is the “biggest ever campaign” to tackle stigma and build awareness, according to the society. Government officials and society experts launched the program Friday in Edmonton.

Sign up for Dementia Friends Canada here.

Their aim is to hit the one million mark by 2017. They’re rolling out ad campaigns nationwide and appealing to members of Parliament, Canadian celebrities and major corporations to support the cause.

READ MORE: 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease

“One of the biggest issues around dementia is stigma and fear and the intent of Dementia Friends Canada is to provide information to Canadians about the disease, what it is, what somebody who has it looks like and the challenges they face,” Mimi Lowi-Young, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, told Global News.

“This is about raising awareness and encouraging individuals to take action around connecting with and helping people with dementia in your community,” Lowi-Young said.

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Ultimately, it’d battle stigma surrounding the disease and build an extra layer of support for dementia patients in communities across Canada.

The campaign is modelled after identical programs in Japan and the United Kingdom. Canadians would sign up online at dementiafriends.ca, sift through information about the disease, then commit to an action, such as promising to visit someone they know who is living with dementia, or reaching out and helping someone who may be lost or disoriented because of their disease.

READ MORE: Women make up 72 per cent of Alzheimer’s patients

The basic information would help Canadians understand what it’s like for dementia patients, their caregivers and their families. It’d also help them figure out how to approach and help their peers living with the disease if they look like they need help.

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Coelho’s grandma passed away at 81 years old. She says that this resource could be a game-changer for patients and their families.

When her grandma battled the disease, Coelho held back on telling her friends and coworkers about the diagnosis, for example.

“I was afraid they were going to judge her and didn’t know how certain people would react to it. There were times where I felt like there’s no one else to help within my community,” she said.

READ MORE: Why docs say these mood changes are a warning sign for Alzheimer’s

“There are a lot of people out there living their lives with this disease and people who are unaware that they may be able to help. This would take away the fear and uncertainty the community has,” Coelho said.

Sign up for Dementia Friends Canada here.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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