Alzheimer Society working to train people how to be 'dementia friendly'

A program is being offered in the Sudbury-area to help businesses and organizations become dementia friendly.

Blue Umbrella program offered free of charge to businesses and organizations, and takes about 30 minutes to do

The Blue Umbrella Program is a 30-minute workshop for businesses that explains the degenerative disease, and how employees can comfort those showing symptoms. (SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images)

A program is being offered in the Sudbury-area to help businesses and organizations become dementia friendly.

The Blue Umbrella program is offered by the Alzheimer Society Sudbury-Manitoulin North Bay & Districts.

"It's a training program in which we go into businesses and organizations in our community and we do a quick 30 minute training session with our staff," Jessica Bertuzzi-Gallo, public relations and education manager with the society said.

"We talk about things like what is dementia, signs and symptoms [and the] best ways to communicate because we want our businesses and organizations and our community to be dementia friendly."

Since the program started two years ago, more than 45 organizations have received the training, Bertuzzi-Gallo says. She adds the society gets calls from a variety of places, including restaurants, health organizations and banks.

"A lot of our older population tend not to do online banking [as] they like to go into the bank," she said.

"So it's about teaching the tellers the best ways to notice signs and symptoms if they're concerned and wait to communicate to have a good experience with them."

Bertuzzi-Gallo says simple changes can help create a dementia friendly environment, including having a quiet space available.

Jessica Bertuzzi-Gallo is the public relations and education manager with the Alzheimer Society in Sudbury-North Bay-Manitoulin and districts. She says that, since the program started two years ago, more than 45 organizations have received training through the Blue Umbrella program. (Supplied/Jessica Bertuzzi-Gallo)

"We always say it's important to have an area separate from a lineup where a person living with dementia and their care partner can kind of sit aside away from the crowd because crowds and loud noises can cause a lot of distress and anxiety," she explained.

"It's about using correct words. So ensuring that you're not using long sentences, you're using yes or no questions and you're presenting one idea at a time so you're not overwhelming."

Bertuzzi-Gallo says dementia is an isolating disease, which is why it's important to make people living with it feel welcome.

"We want to try to get rid of that isolation and make people socially involved," she said.

"So by creating dementia friendly businesses and organizations, we're creating that opportunity for them to continue to do things that they've always enjoyed."

The program uses the term "Blue Umbrella" as a metaphor. The blue umbrella is meant to beacon of hope and kindness that stands out in a dark and rainy world of black umbrellas. 

Bertuzzi-Gallo says her society serves more than 5,000 people who are living with the disease, or caring for someone who has it.

With files from Wendy Bird


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.