'Dementia-friendly' communities projects to launch in Signal Hill, Okotoks

A pilot project aimed at creating dementia-friendly communities that help affected seniors stay longer in their homes will launch soon in the Calgary neighbourhood of Signal Hill and Okotoks, Alta.

Brenda Stafford Foundation program aimed at educating people who encounter seniors with Alzheimer's

A new pilot project in Calgary hopes to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease and creating a network of support for patients and families. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

A pilot project aimed at creating dementia-friendly communities that help affected seniors stay longer in their homes will launch soon in the Calgary neighbourhood of Signal Hill and Okotoks, Alta.

The Brenda Stafford Foundation — a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting seniors — has chosen the two communities because it already has facilities there with expertise to launch the programs.

The foundation plans to team up with the Alzheimer Society of Calgary and other community agencies. It's planning classes, information sessions and on-the-job training to help educate people who may encounter seniors everyday, such as bank tellers, grocery store clerks and the police.

"The prevalence of dementia is growing significantly and, as a society, we're not really well-positioned to respond and often that will lead to premature institutionalization," said Mike Conroy, CEO and president of the foundation.

"What we're trying to do is build both community awareness and community support for people that have dementia or early-onset dementia, reducing the stigma and giving people some ideas about how they can respond when they encounter someone with dementia."

The project also aims to help caregivers learn about the resources available to them, such as overnight respite programs.

The number of people with dementia is expected to double across Canada — including Alberta — over the next 15 years as the population ages. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in Canada. 

Program believed to be first in Canada

Conroy says he believes this program, which began in the U.K., is a first for Canada.

"It's really about creating a network of support within the communities that allows people to stay in their communities as long as possible."

That's what most people want — but they need to feel confident that it's possible, says Conroy. It's also meant to support those who care for people with dementia.

"Informal caregivers take on a lot of responsibility," said Conroy. "We're trying to create catchment areas within these communities to provide support to actually help people stay out of our facilities."

The foundation expects to get its funding in a few weeks from Covenant Health, a group that helps fund innovative projects for seniors in Alberta.

Dementia by the numbers

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada:

  • In 2011, 747,000 Canadians had Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, 14.9 per cent of Canadians 65 and older.

  • By 2031, this figure will increase to 1.4 million if no cure is found.

  • Together the direct medical cost and indirect cost due to dementia — such as lost earnings for people taking off work time to care for sufferers — adds up to $33 billion a year.

  • That could reach $293 billion a year by 2040 if nothing changes.

  • One in five Canadians aged 45 and older provides some form of care to seniors with long-term health problems.

  • In 2011, family caregivers spent in excess of 444 million unpaid hours looking after someone with cognitive impairment, including dementia.

  • By 2040, family caregivers will spend a staggering 1.2 billion unpaid hours per year.

  • The physical and psychological toll on family caregivers is considerable; up to 75 per cent will develop psychological illnesses; 15 to 32 per cent experience depression.


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