Mental health is health — and it matters for all of us. January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and to honour it, we’re focusing on senior mental wellness, what to know and how we can lend our support.

As we head into a new year and set new goals, let’s make mental health a priority — raise awareness and end the stigma associated with it. According to Alzheimer Society of PEI, “Every year, 25,000 Canadians are diagnosed with dementia. One in three people are, or know someone affected by Alzheimer’s Disease or another related dementia.”

Understanding the different stages of the disease
Alzheimer’s disease is progressive — which means learning as a caregiver is ongoing. Thankfully there are resources available to help and support you through every stage.

Awareness is key. Learn the top ten signs of dementia.

As Alzheimer’s progresses, it’s possible for caregivers and family members to remain connected and support those living with the disease with understanding, knowledge and dignity. From an early stage when impairments are mild and as the disease progresses, you can find helpful strategies from the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada.

Keeping in touch with those living with dementia
As social creatures, humans of all ages benefit from connections and interactions with others. This is especially true for those living with dementia; remaining socially connected is an important part of their overall wellbeing. Here are some tips for how caregivers and/or family members can improve visits with someone suffering from dementia.

  • After setting up a time that works best for the person with dementia, make clear communication a priority. This may mean slowing down the rhythm of conversation, using gestures and allowing for more time for responses.
  • Show that you care through listening and body language. Communicating with someone living with dementia can be a different experience. They may want to open up and share their feelings — be ready to receive them. Invite and encourage this sharing with appropriate facial expressions, touches and nods. A simple smile can deliver a stronger message than words sometimes.
  • Take some time to reminisce over good memories you’ve both shared. If at any point they seem confused or forgetful, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Start with dialogue like, “It’s Deborah and I came to see you today.”

It’s important to note that taking care of the caregiver should also be made a priority when planning for the future challenges of caring for someone with dementia. There are support groups and other resources out there to help you, and sharing the responsibility with a professional healthcare provider is also an option. After all, staying socially connected helps all of us.