Small town makes their community dementia-friendly

INNISFAIL, ALTA. — The pandemic forced Wendy Evans and Jennifer Wood to find a way to keep people living with dementia and their care givers connected in a time of isolation.

Evans is a geriatric assessment nurse for Wolf Creek Primary Care Network in Innisfail and the project lead for the Dementia Friendly Community Initiative.  Wood is the initiative’s coordinator.

“We know that during the pandemic many people are experiencing higher levels of loneliness and isolation,” said Wood. “So for someone with dementia staying at home can lead to a decline not only in their cognitive health but also their physical health as well.”

The two took an existing program made for an urban centre and adapted it into something that would work in a small town environment.

“We’re one of the first rural communities who have attempted to become dementia-friendly using the Brenda Strafford Foundation tool kit,” said Wood. “We’ve had a lot of success because there’s a lot of unique characteristics and strengths within our rural community.”

They developed in-person programs before the pandemic, activities that included things like a gardening club and memory cafe.

“We’re hoping to develop even more programs,” said Evans. “Because obviously the pandemic really threw a spanner in the wheel here for us so we had to be creative and that’s where Innisfail Connects came about because it’s virtual programming.

Staying active

Lori Carter lives in Sherwood Park east of Edmonton while her mom Karen Bishop who lives with dementia is in Innisfail. Carter is able to take part in the virtual calls hosted by Innisfail Connects to see how her mom is staying active.

“It’s helpful to see other families that are dealing with the same issues as we are,” said Carter. “How they’re handling it and (the virtual conference call) makes the whole process so much easier to navigate.”

Businesses in Innisfail are also a part of making the town dementia-friendly. Wood has facilitated 58 dementia education sessions in one year which resulted in 728 members of community learning about dementia.

“What we heard was an overwhelming support for our initiative,” said Wood. “And just how simple things can make a big difference in the lives of someone living with dementia.”

Brent Jackson is a pharmacist and is the owner of Pharmasave. He and all his staff learned about being dementia-friendly.

“It’s been helpful on just how to talk to (people living with dementia) properly and (learning how to) have patience with them,” said Jackson. “It was a good education for us.”

Jean Barclay is a long time Innisfail resident whose mom was diagnosed with dementia. She’s been an advocate and now a supporter of the initiative.

“We even spoke back in 2015 about Innisfail becoming dementia friendly but that was before Wendy (Evans) was here so it takes all the right people at the right time to come together to do this,” said Barclay.

“People live in communities,” said Evans. “So we wanted to support them to live well, safely, with dignity in their community and participate in activities.”

Learn more about Innisfail’s Dementia Friendly Community here.

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