Alzheimer Society First Link program expands to Southwest

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A special ribbon cutting was hosted at the Swift Current Care Centre on Jan. 9 to formally launch the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan's Cypress Resource Centre which will provide the First Link program. Participating in the ribbon cutting were Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan, Cypress Health Region CEO Beth Vachon, Premier Brad Wall, and Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan CEO Joanne Bracken.

The Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan celebrated the grand opening of the first of four satellite locations offering their First Link program during a special event in Swift Current last Thursday.

Previously only offered in Regina and Saskatoon, the expanded service provides learning services and support to patients and their families who are diagnosed with Alzheimer disease and other dementias. The Cypress Health Region will be hosting the First Link program at an office at the Swift Current Care Centre.

"This support will make a tangible difference for families in the Cypress Health Region who are living with dementia," explained Joanne Bracken, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan.

"Being part of the community where our clients live is critical. We know that it's difficult for people affected by dementia to ask for help. Having access to Alzheimer Society programs and services in your own community, through the First Link program, removes barriers and increases access to essential support."

Bracken highlighted that even before an individual has a diagnosis of dementia, they often wonder what are some of the warning signs of Alzheimer's and if they are experiencing normal forgetting or a level of memory loss they should worry about.

"I think that’s a bit of the perception is 'there’s nothing you can do about Alzheimer’s disease', so some people even make the comment 'why would you bother getting the diagnosis?' But for the person who is experiencing those symptoms, they know something is wrong, and it’s not a normal part of aging. Some people still have that false belief. While nobody wants this diagnosis, at least when you have it, it validates that 'yes, I was right. There was something going on.' And then you can learn about what is Alzheimer’s disease? Why does my mom ask me the same question all the time? Why does my mom ask to go home all the time? We talk to people about not arguing with people with dementia. You’ll never win an argument with a person who has dementia. We use phrases like 'it’s better to be kind than to be right.' Some of those tips and strategies are sort of earth-shattering, but to a family member whose mom asks them the same question a hundred times, people have reported 'well now that I know that, it makes it so much easier for me to accept that and I’m not upset about it.' And then you kind of know what to expect, and you can adjust what you’re doing. We can’t change what the person with dementia does, but we can change our approach and strategies to reduce their stress and also our own stress. Those are key factors for people who are caregivers for eight to 10 years.

The expansion of the First Link program to Swift Current, North Battleford, Prince Albert and Weyburn was made a reality through an annual $400,000 commitment from the provincial government.

"It’s really about bringing services closer to home," explained Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan. "We know that not only in Saskatchewan, but in a number of provinces that have already adopted the First Link program, there really is just a significant benefit to people who are able to not only access services, but access services in a more timely fashion. If you can imagine the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia is a pretty significant strain on a family, and so the sooner that we can provide the linkages between the patient, the health providers, as well as the Alzheimer’s Society that have a lot of the supports in place, obviously that helps to transition that family as they’re facing a new reality.

Duncan added that the First Link services certainly have an impact on people living with Alzheimer's and other dementias because the services are being brought closer to them.

"Many people have not been able to be involved in their own decision making because they didn’t know the services were available, or what services were available to help them make those decisions sooner. Things around power of attorney and things like that. As well as just ensuring that the medical community, the providers, in a more timely way, have a service they can offer beyond what they do offer. The supports they can offer to their patients in a more timely way, and the additionally money meaning that we can expand it to the four communities across Saskatchewan, as we’ve done with other announcements, means that that service is going to be closer to home for people."

Premier Brad Wall also attended the Jan. 9 grand opening ceremony, adding his personal recollections of his grandfather Peter Wall's care while suffering from Alzheimer's.

"We’re slowly getting better at providing answers to those questions across the province, and that’s what today is all about. Now we’ve brought not just some answers to questions and good information, but early intervention in a more prevalent way to Swift Current through the office. You heard the Alzheimer’s Society talk about how they can involve the patient, those who have been diagnosed in their plan for care and how they’re able to do it, but also some techniques that can be used to keep folks in their homes a little bit longer, perhaps. This is all pretty powerful stuff, and that’s why we moved on this initiative. We expanded First Link now, not just into Swift Current, but centers across the province, and it’s a good next step."

"I think our family would have really appreciated that," he said of the expanded services being announced. "I think the care system worked very well for what was available at the time, but I think we can always be striving to do better. It’s get to be an old stuck record, but we want economic growth in this province, not for the sake of growth, but because it expands our tax base and allows us then to maybe make some spending decisions to help those that are vulnerable. Whether it’s those with disabilities for example, or in healthcare, or in this case, those that have dementia or Alzheimer’s. We can provide support, especially to a group like the Alzheimer’s Society who have a proven track record. We don’t have to invent the wheel, this is an existing program, and we’re able to just fund and expand to other parts of the province. That’s why we want to see that robust Saskatchewan economy, so we can remember that quality of life and care for those who are vulnerable is really the end game."

Organizations: Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan, Swift Current Care Centre

Geographic location: Swift Current, Regina, Saskatoon Saskatchewan

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