The nationwide campaign, entitled Forget the Stigma, will continue until the middle of this month and urges the public to sign up to a simple, three-step challenge to fight stigma.
The challenge involves learning the facts of the condition, listening and empathising, and linking in with those with dementia to prevent isolation.
The campaign was launched by the Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch.
“Dementia really challenges the values we hold as a society and what it means to be human,” said ASI chief executive Gerry Martin.
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“We need to stop avoiding this disease and start to think how we interact with people with dementia.
“Only by understanding the facts and talking more openly about it can we face our own fears and support the thousands of individuals and families living with dementia,” he added.
Stigma is an everyday reality for the 50,000 people in Ireland living with dementia. It is also an added hardship for their family carers. Yesterday, members of the ASI’s Irish Dementia Working Group joined family carers to speak openly of the stigma they have faced.
Speaking at the event, Kathy Ryan, 57, from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, who has early onset dementia said: “One of the toughest things is people not believing or accepting that you have the condition because you don’t look any different.
“People with dementia have a neurological condition which affects our memory, behaviour, relationships etc but we are still ourselves.
“People have turned their back to avoid me in my local supermarket. I understand this is to do with people being uncomfortable, but I want people to know it is extremely hurtful.
“A person living with dementia can date; go out to dinner, to the cinema. We need to be socially engaged like everyone else,” she said.
Ronan Smith, 56 from Wicklow, who also has early onset Alzheimer’s said: “When I first began to tell people I had been diagnosed with dementia I got this wholly inappropriate feeling like I was ‘coming out’.
“There is nothing to fear when it comes to meeting a person with dementia. I have faced up to it, can you?”
Kerryman Sean Donal O’Shea, 30 who has cared for his mother, Debbie, 58, since her diagnosis with early onset Alzheimer’s, said that people talk about her as if she is not in the room.
“Yes, she has dementia but she is still my mom. We need to open up and talk about dementia now.”
Mr Martin added: “For a long time there was a stigma about cancer. There is still a very real stigma about dementia. People hide it from their friends and from themselves, but that’s all changing: people living with dementia are bravely speaking out and writing about it. It is the subject of films and plays and novels.
“It is in everybody’s world now and we need to face up to it. We would urge everyone to support our campaign and help make Ireland truly dementia friendly.”
- For more information, visit http://bit.ly/1FqQJXe or follow the campaign #forgetthestigma