People living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia experience stigmas and stereotypes every day. Facing and overcoming stigma can be a significant challenge for these individuals and their families.

This June, during Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, the Alzheimer’s Association is revealing insights from people living with early-stage dementia. Here are six things they want you to know about living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia:

■ My Alzheimer’s diagnosis does not define me. Although an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is life changing, many living with the disease say their diagnosis does not change who they are. They want to continue doing the activities they enjoy for as long as possible and stay engaged with family and friends.

■ If you want to know how I am doing, just ask me. The sudden change in how others communicate with someone recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia is a frustrating experience for many living with the disease. Many individuals say it can be upsetting when family and friends only check on the person through a spouse or an adult child. They say avoiding or side-stepping direct communication only makes them feel more isolated and alone.

■● Yes, younger people can have dementia. While the vast majority of Americans affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementia are age 65 and older, the disease can affect younger individuals. Those diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s (before age 65) say it is important for others to avoid the common misconception that Alzheimer’s and other dementia only affects older people and to take cognitive concerns seriously at any age.

■● Please don’t debate my diagnosis or tell me I don’t look like I have Alzheimer’s. While family members and friends may be well-intended in attempting to dismiss an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, many living with the disease say such responses can be offensive. If someone says they have been diagnosed with dementia, take them at their word.

■● Understand sometimes my words and actions are not me, it’s my disease. As Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia progresses, individuals can experience a wide range of disease-related behaviors, including anxiety, aggression and confusion. Diagnosed individuals say it’s important for others to recognize disease-related symptoms, so they are better prepared to support the person and navigate communication and behavioral challenges.

■● An Alzheimer’s diagnosis does not mean my life is over. Earlier detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia is enabling individuals more time to plan their futures and prioritize doing the things most important to them.

“The stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s and other dementia is due in a large part to a lack of public awareness and understanding of the disease,” said Beth Smith-Boivin, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Northeastern New York chapter. “Bringing to light the myths and misconceptions is an opportunity for all of us in the community to help people living with the disease and their families overcome the challenges associated with it”.

To learn more about how you can support individuals and families affected by dementia, visit alz.org/northeasternny.

Marisa Korytko is the Public Relations Director for the Alzheimer’s Association Northeastern New York chapter. She can be reached at mekorytko@alz.org.

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