Provincial strategy for dementia needed, says CEO of Sask. Alzheimer’s Society – CBC.ca

There are about 20,000 people in Saskatchewan living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and because of the pandemic, it has been difficult for many to access care. 

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There are about 20,000 people in Saskatchewan living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and because of the pandemic, it’s been difficult for many to access care. 

“A number of the areas that people find really difficult, like isolation, became much more apparent and in many cases, the regulations of the guidelines that were put in place to keep people safe, like physical distancing, increased social isolation for the person with dementia and for their family caregivers,” says Joanne Bracken, CEO of the Alzheimer’s Society of Saskatchewan.

“We know dementia is a very isolating disease, so that was extremely challenging for people not to be able to see their family members and then also not being able to access many of the supports and services that were available to them before the pandemic.”

Bracken is calling for the province to develop a dementia strategy to help those suffering from dementia and their caregivers.

“We’d like to be a partner with government and other stakeholders to address dementia care in Saskatchewan so that we can ensure that people can live well with dementia and have the quality services that they really deserve,” Bracken said.

“I think what we can do is acknowledge the things that are going well, but certainly to think about what are the areas that need improvement.”

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January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in Canada and Bracken said this is a good time to start coming up with a provincial strategy.

During the pandemic a lot of the Alzheimer’s Society’s programs and services were moved online. But Bracken said the pandemic has also highlighted shortcomings when it comes to caring for people with dementia.

“The pandemic has made us aware of some of the challenges in long-term care that need to be addressed,” she said. 

“And I think now is the time for people to be thinking about how we can better improve quality of life for people living in long-term care and providing better supports for people who are caring for people with dementia who are living in the community.”

Beds were added in Regina

The province has announced some initiatives in the past year.

Last July the province announced the addition of 250 specialized long-term care beds in Regina to support the needs of residents with dementia, mental health needs and complex behavioural needs.

“We are looking forward to beginning the detailed planning phase for these important long-term care spaces,” Minister of SaskBuilds and Procurement Jim Reiter said at the time. “The development of these long-term care beds will help to improve quality of life for residents, their families and facility staff.”

The province and the Saskatchewan Health Authority SHA also have plans for a specialized bed facility that will be owned and operated by the SHA.

The CBC reached out to the province but did not receive an immediate response. 

There are also a number of supports available to those suffering from dementia and for their caregivers.

One is Saskatchewan Aids to Independent Living which provides assistance to people with physical disabilities so they can live a more active and independent lifestyle. Assistance could include free loan of mobility aids such as wheelchairs and walkers, hospital beds, commodes and transfer assists.

The federal government has a national dementia strategy that focuses on prioritizing quality of live for those with dementia and their caregivers..

And there are some locales in the province, such as Yorktown and Melville, that have created dementia-friendly communities. 

Bracken said about 60 per cent of people who have dementia live out in communities, and being dementia-friendly is all about learning more about dementia.

“They’re your neighbours, they’re your co-workers and hopefully they’re your friends. And so what you can do to better support people living with dementia to learn about and to be able to understand,” Bracken said. 

Many times people shy away from staying in touch with people who have dementia because they don’t understand the disease, or they’re worried they might say something that’s offensive or embarrassing, Bracken said.

“So when you learn about dementia and you understand the changes that are happening for the person, then you know you have the skills and the abilities to continue to support them and to help them to have a good quality of life living in the community.”