CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Lynn Loftus has been dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia for much of her life.
She is past-president of the Alzheimer’s Society of P.E.I. and continues to serve on the board of the organization. In all, she has worked with the society for 25 years. Dementia has impacted her family as well, including her father and mother, who both lived with the illness.
Six months ago, she herself was diagnosed with dementia.
But Loftus is determined to speak out publicly about her experiences, in order to reduce pre-conceptions and stigmas that are often associated with Alzheimer’s.
“My husband had a stroke and everyone talks about that. But the second I talk about dementia, people say, ‘No, you don’t have it’.” Loftus said.
Loftus spoke to The Guardian after the public launch of a new campaign by the Alzheimer’s Society of P.E.I., called “Let’s Talk Memory”, which was held at Fanningbank on Friday afternoon. The launch also coincided with World Alzheimer’s Day.
The Alzheimer’s Society launched the campaign in partnership with the government of P.E.I., as part of its action plan for seniors, near seniors and caregivers living in the province.
Posters and information packages will be distributed to doctors and other health professionals. A 48-page storybook entitled “What My Grandma Means to Say”, written by Ottawa-based children’s author JC Sulzenko, has also been distributed to all elementary schools in the province to help educate children about Alzheimer’s.
According to provincial geriatrician Dr. Martha Carmichael, the campaign also hopes to help Islanders recognize the early signs of dementia.
“Early diagnosis is essential to receive the proper care and support, medication and plan for the future,” Carmichael said.
Early signs can include memory loss that affects day-to-day tasks, difficulty with language, misplacing things, changes in mood or behaviour and the loss of initiative.
An estimated 2,537 Islanders currently live with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. But according to Corrine Hendricken-Eldershaw, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of P.E.I., a diagnosis of dementia impacts not only the individual, but also an average of six other family members and friends.
"This disease has a great impact not only on the individual, but their primary caregivers, their families, friends, the provincial healthcare system,” Hendricken-Eldershaw said.
“Caregiving for individuals with dementia is complex and often very stressful. Caregivers have identified their need for support and we recognize the need for a plan for the future."
Loftus did not downplay the difficulty of living with a diagnosis. She described having “foggy days” on a regular basis.
But, she also said she lives a good life and that she is supported everyday by her husband, Brian.
"My focus is to stop the stigma. This is a disease of my brain. I'm living a happy life and I love laughter,” said Loftus.