ALZHEIMER’S AWARENESS MONTH: STIGMA AND THE NEED FOR UNDERSTANDING.
Perhaps it’s fear.
Perhaps it’s ignorance.
Perhaps it’s a bit of both that causes many people to offer up a half-hearted joke about forgetfulness when I tell them about our campaign for the Alzheimer Society of Canada. The campaign is live now, throughout January, which is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
The jokes are a predictable but disappointing response, and through this campaign, we’re out to help change perceptions and generate a more positive, better-informed relationship with the general public and their perceptions about Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
It’s clear that by challenging people “outside of the circle of Alzheimer’s disease” to shift their thinking, we will have the greatest effect on (at least) reducing the stigma that people with dementia, their families, and their loved ones endure on a daily basis.
The campaign was created to capture the essence of the challenges that stigma and a lack of support add to the difficulties dementia brings to people’s lives. Research showed us that fear and ignorance were contributing factors in attitudes towards the disease, and in order to educate, we knew we had to capture the humanity that exists in everyone living with dementia.The truth was found in learning from how they live their lives as they could, at whatever stage of the disease they were at.
Everyone is unique
A quote we heard early on and throughout the project was this: “Once you have met one person with dementia, you have met one person with dementia”. It’s different for every single person who is diagnosed. It’s a condition that changes over time. It’s not an ‘old person’s disease.’ Diagnosis is not the end of life.
Through the process of developing the campaign, it became clear that we needed to strike a delicate balance: challenge the reader while not scaring them off with a subject that they may fear already.
And then we met four amazing people who helped it all come together.
Meet the people who can help you understand dementia
Roger, Naomi, Mario, and Mary Beth allowed us into their lives by sharing their experiences and representing the humanity that is at the core of the campaign. I got to know them through conversations and interviews, along with photo shoots of each of them in Ontario, Alberta, and BC.
It was important that the photography captured their bravery, stoicism, confidence, and optimism because the accompanying copy was a bold statement. YES. I LIVE WITH DEMENTIA, positioned in a bold yellow stripe that catches the reader’s eye when set against the black and white background. Supported by the next line: LET ME HELP YOU UNDERSTAND, which suggests that they know something that you need to know, and they’re happy to share that. This completes the thought.
At its heart, this is an anti-pity campaign that turns the tables, putting the power in the hands of the people who have the disease. In essence, they are saying: Sure, the reality is we live with dementia, but we have knowledge and wisdom that you don’t; maybe it’s time you learned more, and we’re here to help you.
By showing people of all ages in the campaign, we’re communicating that this is not an old person’s disease. It can strike at any time. Most importantly, dementia needs to be better understood.
The structure of the campaign
The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada is a federated organization. This means that they have locations across the country that work on a local level to promote awareness and raise funds for better support and advocacy. As we developed the work, it was gratifying to present and engage with societies across Canada. Their feedback was valuable and positive throughout.
There were key considerations in the development of a campaign like this, for an organization that is structured in this way. One of which is the need for them to be able to customize the materials on a local level.
So, there are really two levels to the campaign. The umbrella campaign features our four ambassadors that you met earlier, and their message, which is delivered through print, digital advertising, and social media initiatives, along with PR components. Locally, we developed a comprehensive, customizable digital toolkit that each region could use in its own area.
All elements, national and local, contain a call to action that drives audiences to a dedicated campaign microsite where visitors can read the complete stories. Each individual provincial society was also encouraged to add their own local stories to the website. The combination of four national ambassador stories and local stories helps add engaging content and makes this a truly inclusive campaign for all regions.
If you’d like more detailed information on the strategy, creative, or structure of the campaign, we’d love to tell you more about it. Contact our President, Shelley Mayer for details.
What you can do
I’m immensely proud of the work our team has done on this campaign, and we’re sure it will help make people shift their attitudes. Speak up if you hear a joke. Be patient if you encounter someone with dementia and learn more. Here are some great resources:
Visit Naomi’s blog:
Visit The Alzheimer Society of Canada website:
Visit our campaign website: