Jim Mann once enjoyed a thriving business career, but may now be doing the most important work of his life.
Mann, a board member of Alzheimer’s Society of Canada and a past board member of Alzheimer’s Society of B.C., aims to help educate people about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by sharing his account of life with Alzheimer’s. He was diagnosed with the disease eight years ago at the age of 58.
“It’s a strange disease to fully grasp, isn’t it? People look fine on the outside but the problem, the degeneration of the brain, is on the inside,” he said. “It’s also a disease that has a stereotype built around it. In fact, there is no stereotypical person living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.”
Through awareness, compassion and stigma reduction, Mann believes there’s an opportunity to build dementia-friendly communities throughout the province.
“Now, eight years after living with Alzheimer’s, I have come to realize I have good days and I have bad days. I suppose the same can be said for all of us, except when I have a good day it means I get to exercise my independence, and when I have a bad day, when my mind is too muddled to do much on my own, it means I need support,” he said. “For those around us, this is an ever changing landscape of eggshells.”
As someone who worked in the airline industry for 25 years and had a consulting firm, Mann said it can be frustrating to be limited to one main task a day.
“My life isn’t over; I do have a purpose. Like being here with you today to tell you we all have a role in creating dementia-friendly communities, so people like me, and the guys in my support group, can keep on living as well as possible,” he said. “You see, people with dementia need to get out. We need to socialize, to get exercise and to eat well. Sometimes to do this we need a little push and extra support. Support from our friends and families, but also from our communities, from the cashier at the grocery store to the bus driver, to the staff at our local community centre, down to the folks just out walking down the street.”
Mann said the first step torward to being a dementia-friendly community is dismissing the stereotypes people have about people with dementia. He recalled an incident in a hospital emergency room when he insisted his wife accompany him to the examining room because he has Alzheimer’s disease.
“A senior nurse in the ER told me I didn’t need Alice with me because I looked fine. That is part of the problem, isn’t it? How is someone with Alzheimer’s disease supposed to look? You can’t see the degeneration of someone’s brain from the outside,” he said. “Despite her education and experience, the nurse had displayed a familiar stereotype about Alzheimer’s - the one which assumes that assumes as soon as a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease they immediately become incapable and incompetent. Looks can be deceiving.”