It's that time of year again when Alzheimer Awareness comes to the fore, and even in the midst of a pandemic the Alzheimer's Society of Kenora/Rainy River District is doing their best to raise awareness and educate others about dementia.
January is Alzheimer Awareness month for the society, and in the Kenora and Rainy River Districts, the organization will be holding a number of COVID-safe virtual events for the general public and other sessions for those living with dementia, their families and caregivers. It's not ideal, but Alzheimer's Society client services co-ordinator Mary O'Connor said that by this point, the society is well versed in taking its programs online.
"Through the whole year we've gotten more familiar with Zoom, and we're familiar with OTN," O'Connor said.
"We've already done stuff between Dryden and Kenora and Fort Frances."
At this point last year O'Connor was talking about in person workshops and learning sessions, and hinting at preparations for the pair of fundraising dinners that are traditionally held early in the calendar year. Of course, at this time last year COVID was just a blip on the horizon, one that eventually impacted almost every facet of life in the district. Still, O'Connor and the Alzheimer's society are working just as hard as they always have, and even with an ongoing pandemic, there will be several opportunities for members of the public to tune in and learn a bit about navigating dementia in and around their lives though a number of educational sessions.
The first session has already gone ahead. Titled "Visiting Dementia," O'Connor explained that it was all about how to have an enjoyable visit with someone who is living with dementia, regardless of how far along they are.
"Everybody in the early stages of dementia, they are at home," she said of the session.
"What I am going to do is talk generically about what you need to do to have a good visit for everybody. You want to have good lighting, you want to remove the distractions. Then I'm going to focus on early-stage dementia, where there are little things that aren't making sense. How you can make it a great visit, regardless. I'm going to do early, middle, and then I'm going to do late-stage dementia."
O'Connor said the late-stage portion of the educational sessions would go over having those meetings in a care-home setting like Rainycrest, where the majority of people living with late-stage dementia would be, including those who are non-verbal or non-communicative entirely. The benefit of combining visiting tactics for all three stages is that, due to the progressive nature of the disease, all the information will eventually be relevant.
The next information session will take place at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 26 and is titled "Brain Health and You." Hosted by Heidi from the Dryden office, O'Connor said this session will be all about brain health for everyone, not just those living with dementia.
"This is not geared to dementia, it is geared to how to have the best possible brain health that we can," O'Connor explained.
"At every age we need to take care of our brain, and there will be things that we can do to maximize our brain health. That one will be really good."
The final two sessions will round out that final week in January with a 2:00 p.m. session on Thursday, Jan 28 and Friday, Jan 29.
The first of the two sessions is all about the warning signs of Alzheimer disease, which O'Connor stressed are more than just forgetting where you put your car keys.
"What I'll look at are the ten warning signs and the difference between normal aging and what could be the beginning of Alzheimer disease," she said.
"What happens if I don't do that is people say 'I have six of those [warning signs]. It's going to be really good at clarifying what normal aging is and what could be the beginning of something that is Alzheimer's."
The final public session could wind up being the most valuable to people who do have a loved one living with dementia. Titled "Lost and Alone - Finding Your Way," O'Connor said it will be about wandering, which is a common occurrence among those living with dementia, and some practical ways to keep loved ones safe.
"Three out of five people with dementia wander at some point during their disease progression," she explained.
"It's being run by Rylee at the Kenora office, and what she's going to do is she's going to look at prevention. She's going to look at things we can do to make life better, and what do you do if all of a sudden your loved one is missing. You would not believe the number of people who call me and say 'my husband just took off for the hills, what should I do?' Call the police. And then I tell them to know what you want from the police and to use specific wording; do not say 'agitated,' do not say 'aggressive.' Say 'dementia' and say 'confused.' Things like this are what people need to know."
Hand in hand with these public information sessions, O'Connor said that the society's usual private sessions are still going strong, offering a connection for those living with dementia and the people who care for them, something she said has been especially important in the midst of a difficult pandemic.
"It's been so hard for the caregivers," O'Connor said.
"It doesn't matter if you have your loved one at home, and then you can't go out, can't do things, but if they're in Rainycrest it's even worse because you can't go and see them. It makes it really hard, and that's why we're trying to do so much online,” she said,
All of the sessions offered to the public this month are free to participate in, though anyone interested in attending is asked to register by calling the Alzheimer Society at 807-486-1516 or toll free at 1-800-682-0245.
Ken Kellar, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times