Strolling amidst the greenery of a park trail is a restorative activity for many of us. For someone with dementia or memory loss, it’s an invaluable chance to de-clutter thoughts and give respite to their caregivers. That's why a dementia-friendly walking program in Stony Plain has become so treasured by participants.
“The social connections are important for everyone. I felt totally supported and appreciated,” said a volunteer with the program this past summer.
The Trail Explorers walking group is one of several activities that has emerged in the close-knit community west of Edmonton to support those living with dementia and their families. It's part of the community-based Dementia Connections program, which coordinates dementia-friendly activities and resources for residents in the tri-region--Stony Plain, Spruce Grove and Parkland County.
The program is a follow-up of a pilot launched five years ago, where founding partners used provincial grant funds to create dementia awareness and teach people skills to the public, businesses and services. Since then, community members--from shop owners to librarians-- have learned how to lend support and understanding to fellow citizens with symptoms of dementia.
Phase Two is now underway, in partnership with the WestView Dementia Collaborative and help from another Alberta Health community innovation grant.
“We’re using our collaborative power to assist people living with dementia have greater quality of life and increased social supports,” said Deanna Butz, community development officer with the Town of Stony Plain. She notes one of the key outcomes from Phase One emphasized the need for caregiver support, so projects like the walking group and a friendly visitor program provide much-needed down time for care partners.
“Especially through COVID, we’re letting caregivers know they’re not alone; providing that chance to get a break and connect with each other,” said Butz. “And people living with dementia are empowered to tell us what they want from the program.”
Taking to heart the request by individuals for simple things to do in the community to create connections, Butz and team launched the Memory Cafe which offers the comfort of music for those with memory loss, and a space to socialize for their caregivers.
"For care partners, looking after someone with memory loss can be lonely and isolating,” said Rev. Heather Koots, minister at Stony Plain United Church who previously worked in long term care and saw the difference connections can make to those affected by dementia.
Presented in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society of Alberta and NWT, the Memory Cafe provides space and support to caregivers while their loved ones enjoy facilitated hand drumming, music and singing. Though its start was delayed by the pandemic, the Cafe plans twice monthly meetups at the church--the host venue.
“When we offered the project to our congregation, we got a lot of response,” said Koots. “Some have family members with memory loss and are not sure how to talk to them.”
Another tangible outcome from the second round of funding has been the opportunity to hire a community connector who coordinates activities and helps clients and families navigate services--from finding a doctor to planning for advanced dementia care. And having service providers at the table, like home care and acute care, has been invaluable in identifying more needs and gaps in the system, says Butz.
It’s helped a little under 50 families living with dementia," she said. "As for the community, the program has galvanized a big shift in perspective. We had a good turnout at a community dementia awareness session last year, and we’ve done awareness campaigns with volunteers where we train and educate them too."
Once the current phase is complete, the Dementia Connections program will become a permanent fixture in the tri-region.
For more information or to volunteer with Dementia Connections, go to https://www.stonyplain.com/en/live/community-programs.aspx