As its name indicates, the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories serves a large geographic area. Staff at seven office locations (six in Alberta and one in the Northwest Territories) provide information, support, and education; and advocate for people living with dementia.
The Alzheimer Society estimates more than 46,000 Albertans are living with dementia; almost 1% of the total population. It says this number could more than quadruple in the next 2 decades. These figures underscore the importance of meaningful supports, of which the Alzheimer Society has many.
In the world of COVID-19, staff have managed to find new ways to deliver their services and programs to those living with dementia and their care partners. “It has pushed us to do things that we never used to,” says Arlene Huhn, Regional Lead for Alberta and the Northwest Territories. In particular, she points to virtual platforms expanding the Alzheimer Society’s reach, allowing staff to connect with clients and colleagues in rural areas — something which has, historically, proven challenging. “We've heard from some of our stakeholders, community partners that they used to come in, and they'd go to a conference, or they do all these things, and they can’t anymore…. We just needed a way to be able to still reach out to them and offer them something.”
Currently, the Alzheimer Society’s programs and services are virtual, as are the various support groups it hosts. It has also enhanced the offerings in its ASANT Café, a gathering place for people with dementia and their care partners. ASANT Café, has expanded to include more resources and learning opportunities for health and community professionals.
The online world has also provided new opportunities to build on a program that has been growing in popularity both in the Edmonton area and nationally. Minds in Motion® is designed for people with early to mid-stage dementia to enjoy with a friend, family member or care partner.
The program combines physical activity and mental stimulation in a social environment. Now, with a virtual delivery, participants “are doing the fitness in their living room,” which is about 45 minutes of light exercise, explains Program Coordinator Jessica Sparks. “And then they'll come to their kitchen table for the cognitive part, where they have a table to write on.”
The Alzheimer Society was planning a provincial expansion of the Minds in Motion® program before the pandemic hit. Despite those plans now being temporarily on hold, the Alzheimer Society has found ways to reach clients beyond the Edmonton area. The virtual delivery means there are no longer geographic limitations. In fact, on the day we were invited to join one of the sessions, there were participants from Edmonton, outlying rural areas, Calgary, and even one from New York City.
Among the participants that day were Rick and Lily, a husband and wife from Edmonton who told us they are grateful for the opportunity to be part of Minds in Motion®. “We’ve been locked down for almost a year,” Lily said. “This is a way to bring people into the house.” Rick added the two used to participate in exercise classes at a local seniors centre before COVID impacted programming. “Not only do you do exercises, but then you’d have a coffee with everybody else afterwards,” he said.
When it came time for the “Show and Share” portion of the session, Rick held up a picture of his beloved late golden retriever and told the group how the dog became more recognizable in the neighbourhood than even Rick himself. Other participants opened up about stories from their younger days and activities that they enjoy now. There were plenty of laughs when one of the exercises required participants to name something they have now that they didn’t have when they were younger. Without skipping a beat, one of the participants chimed in with “grey hair.” In the midst of a pandemic that has made human-to-human interaction more challenging and increased social isolation, these sorts of connections can mean so much.
“It’s a time to have some social time with other people outside the usual people that we would zoom with,” Lily said. “Expands the horizons a little bit.”
Staff report seeing clients come out of their shells over the course of the 8-week program. And, the benefits go beyond the social connections that are formed. They also help to familiarize clients with staff and increase comfort levels. Sparks chalks that up to the approachability of the Minds in Motion® format. “It’s not like an informational resource in that we’re not going to talk about the brain, we’re not going to talk about how dementia has impacted them. We’re there to socialize, to use our brain a bit. So I like when I get those phone calls or emails that say ‘hey you could also tell me about home care, right?’ I like that they feel comfortable to reach out to us and that we have new clients that we've built that relationship with.”
While COVID has thrown so many curveballs, the Alzheimer Society is continuing to adapt to help its clients navigate the environment. For those living with dementia, cognitive impairment, and their care partners, Huhn has this message: “Reach out to the Alzheimer Society. You don't have to have a formal referral. You can just reach out to us to get involved to know that you're not alone in this journey.”
For more information: Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories
All seniors serving organizations can make direct referrals to the Alzheimer Society if they are working with a client or family member of a person living with dementia. Contact Arlene Huhn for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org