Pictured here is a group connected to the Lacombe-based Dementia Friendly Community Initiative during a visit to the Ellis Bird Farm. photo submitted

Pictured here is a group connected to the Lacombe-based Dementia Friendly Community Initiative during a visit to the Ellis Bird Farm. photo submitted

Dementia Friendly Community Initiative is having an impact in Lacombe

‘Each program has been tailored for all the different needs that individuals with dementia have.’

In an effort to bolster a sense of greater inclusion, a group in Lacombe is aiming to build a more ‘dementia-friendly’ community.

“The Dementia Friendly Community Initiative started in Lacombe a couple of years ago.

“Really, it was part of my role as a geriatric nurse for the Primary Care Network, to try and get this initiative off the ground,” explains Chelsie Toews, who is leading the initiative.

She pointed out that a similar initiative was already up and running in Innisfail – a community that is also part of the Wolf Creek Primary Care Network.

“So we took some learning from them as to how we could get this started in Lacombe,” she said.

“Overall, it’s something that is an international initiative – dementia has been identified as a major public health concern by the World Health Organization, so there are different strategies that have been implemented in countries around the world.

Here in Alberta, it falls under the Alberta Dementia Strategy Action Plan.

“It calls communities to make a more dementia-friendly environment for individuals living with dementia, and their caregivers or care partners,” she said, adding that the New Horizons grant has helped with programming.

Locally, the initiative has teamed up with community partners to plan a range of activities.

Programs run the gamut from Minds in Motion (a combination of physical and cognitive exercises), Music for Dementia and Community Connections to GardenLife, EcoVision (an inter-generation program), the Memory Cafe and Opening Minds Through Art.

“Part of what we needed to do is help local businesses and organizations to understand how to support those with dementia because unfortunately it is highly stigmatized,” said Alexandra Seefeldt, a community recreation therapist at the Lacombe Community Health Centre.

“A lot of that is because of a lack of education and a lack of knowing how to approach someone who has dementia.”

To that end, an education session for local businesses and organizations has been designed.

“We tailor those sessions specifically to the individual business to help them with what they need to support individuals with dementia in their environments,” she said.

Once an organization completes the training, they can advertise that they are a dementia-friendly place for folks here at home.

As to the above programs, Seefeldt said the impact is amazing.

“Music, for example, has huge therapeutic benefits for those living with dementia,” she explained.

“One of the main things that we target with that program is to help improve mood, anxiety and/or depression that they may be experiencing.”

It’s common to see some folks coming to a music session with little expression and without an ability to really engage.

But then the music starts, memories kick in, and smiles and laughs are plentiful.

Essentially, it has to do with where our core memories are kept, she said

“They may not always remember what they did during the program, but they will remember how they felt,” she said, adding that the team also provides instruction on how caregivers can implement these strategies at home.

A couple of the programs also take place out at Ellis Bird Farm, and again, the results have been impressive, she said.

“We also just launched the Memory Cafe a few months ago now, which is for people living with dementia and their caregivers. Once a month, people have coffee or tea and just socialize.”

In the meantime, both women say they’d like to see more local businesses sign up for the education sessions. “I’d really like to see more businesses and organizations step up with this for sure.

“Ultimately, I think it’s important for people to know that with people living dementia – most of them are still living in the community in their own homes, and they are still part of the community,” said Toews.

“They just need a little more attention and support to their needs.”

For more about the Dementia Friendly Community Initiative, contact Chelsie Toews at chelsie.toews@wcpcn.ca.