If you encountered a senior who appeared disoriented and lost, would you know how to respond? VCH, the three North Shore municipalities and the Alzheimer Society of B.C. are partnering to create a dementia-friendly North Shore.

Population Health: Helping create a dementia-friendly North Shore

This is the fourth installment in our series on the North Shore Population Health team.

With an estimated 70,000 people in B.C. living with some form of dementia (a figure that is expected to double by 2031), it’s not hard to find someone who has been personally affected by it. A grandparent, an aunt, a mother, a brother, a friend.

In Erin Black’s case, it was her dad. While out for a walk on the West Vancouver seawall, he became disoriented and got lost, but he managed to make his way to the library.

“The library staff took him in, calmed him down, got him working on one of their puzzles they always have going and called us,” Erin recalls. “My family and I had been out frantically looking for him when we got the call from the library.”

Erin Black

The experience her dad had at the West Van library is what Erin hopes for all our seniors – that they are supported in the community with care, kindness and understanding.

“This is what I hope the outcome will be of the Dementia Friendly Community Action Plan,” says Erin, who, as Lead for the North Shore Population Health Team, is part of a tri-municipal committee to explore dementia and create a dementia-friendly community on the North Shore.

What is dementia?

Dementia is an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain – it is not a normal part of aging and nor is it just about losing your memory. It can affect thinking, communicating and doing everyday activities. There are many types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia.

“The North Shore has an aging population, coupled with the increasing prevalence of dementia, the demands on our health and community services will continue to increase, making it a huge issue for seniors and their families, municipalities, agencies and the health authority,” says Erin. “The Dementia-Friendly Action Plan is a great example of the importance of linking VCH to the North Shore community and their initiatives through the NS Population Health Team.”

What is a dementia-friendly community?

A dementia-friendly community (DFC) values people living with dementia and helps support caregivers who risk isolation and poor health due to their role and responsibilities. It also supports a sense of belonging and independence. Dementia-friendly features benefit people of all ages and abilities by increasing understanding and supporting social and physical participation.

Much like the proverb that it takes a village to raise a child, it will take a community to ensure people living with dementia feel comfortable, safe, and supported when they are out walking, shopping, going to the bank, attending an exercise class or interacting with a building manager – much like the experience of Erin’s dad.

The Alzheimer Society of B.C., which is working with a dozen municipalities across the province on similar projects, provides tools, information and education to communities like the North Shore that are working to become more inclusive of persons with dementia.

“Our ultimate vision at the Alzheimer Society of B.C. is of a world without dementia,” says Heather Cowie, the society’s provincial coordinator for dementia-friendly communities. “Until this day comes, we are committed to building a world where people living with dementia, their caregivers and their families are included, acknowledged and supported – a truly dementia-friendly society. But we can’t do this alone. This is why VCH, other health authorities, and other places such as local governments, the professional sector and community groups are so important to the Society’s DFC initiative.”

A DFC embodies the concept that health is more than the healthcare a person receives.

With information and training, transit drivers, pharmacists, grocery store and coffee shop staff, dog walkers, and taxi drivers can reach out to offer help when a customer or individual they encounter is showing signs of cognitive loss. They could also be the “eyes on the street” for people who are wandering.

Next steps

As the three North Shore municipalities and key stakeholders work to implement the DFC Action Plan, VCH and all health care professionals will continue to fill a critical role.

“VCH and Erin’s continued involvement and collaboration will be valuable in the creation of a dementia-friendly North Shore, particularly by using VCH’s expertise to partner in providing education and resources on dementia,” says Heather.

For Erin, having a tri–municipal plan that strives to create a “healthy” community where those who have dementia or other cognitive challenges are valued and their needs are considered will not only help the community but it will enhance VCH health services.

“Keeping people supported, safe and content to age well in their own neighbourhoods and communities can only work  if it is a partnership, a partnership in which VCH is an active player,” says Erin.

Contact Erin at erin.black@vch.ca for more information.

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