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Diagnosed with dementia, a B.C. man’s friends rejected him. Now, he’s fighting a stigma

A new campaign has been launched to destigmatize dementia, just as a new poll has some heartbreaking information on what happens to people when they're diagnosed. Linda Aylesworth reports.

It’s been 10 years since Mario Gregorio was diagnosed with dementia.

He was 58 years old. And when word emerged about his illness, his friends didn’t exactly rally around him.

Coverage of dementia on Globalnews.ca:

Instead, they started unfriending him on Facebook and they ignored his emails.

“It’s a bit disconcerting in the sense that it’s more like, hey, I’m still here guys,” Gregorio told Global News.

“And yet they seem reluctant to start conversation.”

READ MORE: Online campaign hopes to share stories of dementia, eliminate stigma

In the time since his diagnosis, Gregorio has taken up photography.

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But he’s also become one of the faces of a campaign to reduce the stigma around the disease.

Gregorio features as part of ILivewithDementia.ca, a website by the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

It’s been put together because it’s “time for understanding,” the society said on the site.

“Stigma means feeling that you’re inferior, that you’re stupid, that you are incompetent, that you are incapable,” Dorothy Leclair of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. told Global News.

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Misinformation around dementia means that people who live with it can lose key support at times when they need it most.

“They need to understand that the person is still the person, they are not changed,” Leclair said.

“Their skills and abilities might be changed, but the person themselves, at their core, is the same as they ever were.”

READ MORE: N.B. Alzheimer Society wants to erase stigma during awareness month

As part the campaign, you meet people with dementia and learn just a little bit about them.

Of Gregorio, you learn that he likes to try food from other cultures.

Of Mary Beth, another participant, you learn that she likes to watch sunsets with her partner.

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Gregorio may not have the skills he used to — he can’t cook anymore, as he might forget that he left the stove on — but he’s still very much Mario.

“Don’t stay away because you feel sad that they’re changing,” Leclair urged. “Be glad that you’ve had this relationship and sustain it as well as you can.”