How to stay active – and safe – with memory loss

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Pop quiz: Someone you know – a friend, a family member, someone you love – is showing signs of memory loss and confusion.

Do you:

  1. Tell them to stay home and not move until someone can take them where they need to go?
  2. Avoid inviting them to social gatherings because they probably can’t follow the conversation?
  3. Cross them off your list of friends to invite to go shopping, or walking, or biking – they couldn’t handle the physical activity anyway?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you are not alone. Many Canadians fear memory loss because they understand it is one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease ranks seventh on the list of most feared diseases in Canada.

But people with dementia are starting to make some noise. And what they are saying is – “nothing about us without us-” a straightforward declaration that they want to be included in everything, from decisions about their care, to travel, to social activities. And, with some precautions and a simple safety plan in place, people with memory loss or other signs of dementia can lead safe and active lives in the community.

Phyllis Fehr, for example, would be annoyed if you thought that she should stay home. A former intensive care nurse who was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2010, Phyllis stays active and social. “As a nurse, I understood the value of taking action early once I received the diagnosis,” Phyllis says. “I take medication that helps keep my brain functioning well. I took up archery because I wanted something that would help me with my concentration and focus. And I travel as much as possible.” Phyllis has learned to adapt to her disease. Her trusty tablet is never far from her side. She uses it as her “brain,” she says, as well as to stay connected to her children and grandchildren.

In May, Phyllis appeared before the Canadian Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology with three colleagues in the Ontario Dementia Advisory Group to speak passionately and eloquently about making Ontario communities “dementia-friendly.”

More and more, research is showing that a healthy diet, physical activity and social interaction go a long way towards delaying the onset of dementia and slowing its progress after diagnosis. Getting a diagnosis also means earlier access to treatments and support, which have proven helpful in managing the disease.

That doesn’t mean precautions shouldn’t be taken. Sixty percent of people with dementia go missing, often without warning. But there are tools and information that can help.

The Alzheimer Society’s program Finding Your Way-Living Safely in the Community, funded by the Province of Ontario, has information and tools that can help people with dementia live well in the community. The Society’s philosophy is that everyone has the right to live with some risk. And the best way to manage that risk is knowledge of what can happen and how to take precautions.

Do you know how to help people with memory loss or other signs of dementia? Try this short quiz.

To learn more, take the free online course about living well in the community available at

And if you are concerned about your own memory, remember that people become forgetful for many reasons. Medication can affect memory. Depression, anxiety, vitamin deficiency can also cause forgetfulness, so it’s important to get the right diagnosis. If you are worried about your memory, it is a good idea to talk to your family doctor, today.

By: Cathy Conway