Chipping at Stigma

Categories: Advocacy|By |Published On: |

Available as an audio article. LISTEN HERE

Through a collaborative approach and innovative initiatives, Dementia Network Calgary’s Kim Brundrit has helped create an environment for Calgarians living with dementia to live better.   

K im Brundrit clearly recalls the first time a guest announced they had dementia at a community event — a milestone for a condition that can be shrouded in stigma. 

“I just felt like screaming and clapping,” Brundrit says of the moment in late 2019. “It was the first time that someone felt comfortable enough to stand up and say that in a room full of people they didn’t know.” 

       Kim Brundrit - Photo Courtesy of Jared Sych

Since 2016, Brundrit, who has a background in community engagement and policy development, has served as collective impact lead for Dementia Network Calgary.

The Network is a group of individuals and organizations from the non-profit, public and private sectors that have united to create meaningful change for the dementia community.  

Central to the Network’s overarching goal has been challenging the common perception and stigma attached to dementia.

A study Brundrit helped facilitate in the summer of 2019 showed that a majority of Calgarians thought that people living with dementia no longer live at home, a belief in stark contrast to the truth — 80 per cent of people living with dementia live in their community. 

Dementia Network Calgary teamed up with Roger Marple, a Medicine Hat-based advocate living with dementia, on the “Dementia Lives Here” project to address the disconnect. With Marple as a guide, the initiative consists of a website populated with videos and blog posts that answer common questions and shed light on what living with dementia is like. 

The Network knows the best way to reduce stigma is for people to interact with someone living with dementia. Marple is offering “Ask Me Anything” sessions online, and the Network hopes to have them in person as soon as possible.  

“Dementia’s not fun, and we’re not trying to make light of it,” says Brundrit. “But we are trying to make this an approachable conversation.”  

Finding collaborative and innovative solutions is at the core of Brundrit’s work. She’s worked with stakeholders throughout the community to spearhead projects for everyone impacted by dementia.  

The cross-sector collaborative approach has been crucial to the Network’s success, as exemplified by a project Brundrit helped bring to life amid rising cases of COVID-19 and lockdowns at long-term care facilities in 2020.  

 Noticing a need for additional support in care facilities, as well as an increased need for emotional support for care partners who were unable to see the people they care for, Dementia Network Calgary, the Canadian Red Cross and the Alzheimer Society of Calgary teamed up to create a free online training program surrounding use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection prevention and control protocols (IP&C).  

               Dementia Network Calgary Logo

“We wanted family care partners to be in [long-term care facilities], but we needed to address the needs of keeping residents safe,” Brundrit says of the thought process behind the program.  

 The program, which was extended into 2021, was a success, with participants reporting a dramatic increase in comfort and confidence when visiting care homes after the training.  

Projects such as the PPE and IP&C program are examples of the Network’s willingness to be reactive and offer quick solutions. But Brundrit says overarching goals such as chipping away at stigma is a long-term challenge. Along the way, however, Brundrit’s work has helped inspire profound change. 

Following the launch of “Dementia Lives Here,” Brundrit received a call from a woman who had come across the webpage. After receiving a dementia diagnosis in November, the woman had isolated herself and was reluctant to tell her family about the diagnosis. She told Brundrit she had planned to end her life after the holidays. However, after seeing Marple share his experience, she decided she wanted to get involved with the cause.  

While a task like dispelling stigma may not happen overnight, Brundrit says stories like these keep her moving forward to inspire further change. “If that’s all that happened out of this, that’s amazing,” says Brundrit.