January is Alzheimer's Awareness Month

This January has been a full year in and of itself. And it remains Alzheimer's Awareness month. 

I posted this photo and caption on Instagram on Monday. (You could follow me there, if you're so inclined. I'm @marionagnew.) 

How do you handle fear?

Denial was my go-to. I ignored my mother’s confusion and anxiety, her memory lapses. Then I tried to pretend it wasn’t serious—surely not Alzheimer’s. She was still okay. My parents were still parents, still “the grownups.”

It wasn’t true, of course. My mother was sick—afraid, disoriented. My father was just keeping up. And it wasn’t fair to them to pretend nothing was wrong. I had to face my fears around disease and loss to forge new relationships with them both.

Some people handle fear by cracking jokes—“I forget what I came in here for, it’s probably that Old-Timers.” “I tell you what, if I ever lose it, just take me out back and shoot me.”

Some in their audience laugh along. Haha. Ha.

Many “haha” through tight smiles, because honestly saying “ouch” and crying is too hard. It’s too big a risk—the stigma around a dementia diagnosis is real.

January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. People with dementia, and those who love them, overcome their own denial every day. They may choose to live with grace and hope—and humour. They don’t need your jokes or your denial.

They especially don’t need your absence. When someone shares a diagnosis, their entire community can disappear. “Friends” say, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to act, it’s too hard.”

People with dementia deserve better. We all do.

So how do you support people with dementia? The Alzheimer Society (Canada) and Alzheimer’s Association (United States) have tips. An information clearinghouse, AlzAuthors, also has resources, including a podcast.

Mostly: be a friend. Ask. Listen. Overcome your own fear. Someday, you may need a community to do the same for you. 💜