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Associate Professor Pia Kontos reminds us that those living with Alzheimer’s are #StillHere

January 13/2016

January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and Associate Professor Pia Kontos’ research challenges Pia Kontosmisconceptions about the disease, which is the aim of the Alzheimer Society of Canada’s #StillHere campaign.

“People with dementia face discrimination and social rejection. Often they are ignored. People will address their caregiver even when the person with dementia is standing right there. They may lose friends because of misconceptions about abilities,” said Kontos, an Associate Professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health’s Social and Behavioural Health Sciences Division and the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at the University of Toronto.

As #StillHere spokesperson — a social media awareness campaign that aims to dispel the myths around what it means to live with dementia and encourage all of us to see the person beyond the condition — Kontos is helping to reduce the stigma associated with dementia.

“Our cognitive abilities alone do not define us. People with dementia can continue to engage with the world in many other meaningful ways. And, supporting their dignity and worth improves their well-being and quality of life,” said Kontos, who is also a senior scientist at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network and Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute.

Professor Kontos’ research is gaining attention through the #StillHere campaign, but her unique knowledge translation activities are also having an impact.

Cracked: New Light on Dementia is a theatrical production she co-produced that blends science and drama to address stigma around dementia. The play is a collaborative initiative and is based on research conducted by Kontos and colleagues from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Waterloo, and York University.

“Theatre is a very powerful medium,” Kontos told U of T Magazine. “It can challenge assumptions and practices that are taken for granted and open audiences to new possibilities for supporting the humanity of people living with dementia.”

An internationally-recognized scientist, Professor Kontos has spent most of her career challenging perceptions of dementia through her research.

“Pia’s hugely successful theatre productions have been received with great interest and enthusiasm by the healthcare community and by the general public. This is public health prevention and applied intervention and knowledge transfer at its very best!” says Joan Eakin, Professor Emerita in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and past director of the Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research where Kontos is an Academic Fellow.

Top photo:  A scene from Cracked: New Light on Dementia, from a performance at Toronto’s Baycrest in May 2014, with actors Lori Nancy Kalamanski, Susan Applewhaite, and Mark Prince (from left to right). Photo by Amanda Paterson.