Facing dementia head-on

Newly diagnosed dementia patients and their families living in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will be able to access more educational resources from the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C., thanks to its First Link Program

Newly diagnosed dementia patients and their families living in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will be able to access more educational resources from the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C., thanks to its First Link Program.

The program began in Victoria three years ago, and just over 12 months ago was introduced to the society’s Fraser North region, which includes municipalities from Burnaby to Maple Ridge.

First Link was created to provide early intervention services, including support, to newly diagnosed patients and their families as soon as possible.

The society sends out information packages, numbers and information about educational services and support groups and provides referrals for other community and health care services.

“We are here to provide help, support and education to not only the patients, but also their families and caregivers,” said Dorothy Leclair, support and education coordinator for the society.

“The First Link Program is a very proactive program. We enroll patients into our database and call every few months for a significant period of time to track their progress. In the past, we would get people calling us and asking for resources, but we’d never hear from them again until their changes had led to a crisis. With First Link, we stay connected throughout the journey. It’s really there to make sure they don’t need to be in a crisis to access our services.”

In Canada, Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia currently affects half a million people. Roughly, 71,000 of them are under the age of 65 and one in 11 Canadians over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s or a form of dementia. This year alone, more than 103,000 Canadians will develop dementia.

Initial symptoms include market changes in behaviour and memory loss. The most obvious symptoms are forgetfulness of everyday details and routines, becoming lethargic or withdrawn, and dealing with personality changes. Anyone dealing with these symptoms should see a doctor immediately.

Leclair said families have the most difficult time adjusting to the diagnosis and recommends patience and understanding of the disease. “I want to reassure families that while things will change, it’s not something that we need to immediately go into catastrophe mode over,” she said. “It is possible to maintain a very high quality of life. There are things this disease doesn’t change and we like to provide resources that will help to maintain the best quality of life for as long as possible.

“We encourage families to take our education series, which looks at dementia, its origin, how to communicate and adapt, and behavioral changes and how to cope. Essentially, we’re here to help navigate the system because planning for the future can help alleviate a lot of stress,” she added.

Leclair encourages patients and family members to attend support meetings held in Maple Ridge monthly. Although the resources are available, many patients and family members don’t know they exist.

“We regularly offer education in Maple Ridge. The response in Maple Ridge has always been so wonderful. We hold three really big educational seminars about three times a year with our next one in November, but we also offer support groups for patients, families and caregivers monthly and our society is always there to help.”

The support meetings attract 25 to 30 people in the evening session and roughly 12 during the daytime session, with ages ranging from people in their early 60s to late 80s, but Leclair said she’s seen some cases involving people in their 30s and 40s.

“The public assumes it’s an old-age disease, but the truth is, there are so many forms of dementia and different type of Alzheimer’s that can affect people very early on,” she said. “The best solution is to face it head on and take advantage of the resources and educational tools out there. There are plenty of ways for families and patients to stay connected and learn about this disease.”

• For more information about Alzheimer’s or dementia, visit www.alzheimerbc.org.