January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Around midday on January 4, 2023, at the Fort Frances city hall, representatives from the Alzheimer’s Society and council members raised a dark blue “Forget Me Not” flag in the cold January air, proclaiming January as National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and kickstarting a series of fundraising and advocacy events striving to help those living with Alzheimer’s Disease.

A similar ceremony took place in Dryden hours prior, and another in Kenora the day before, with ceremonies in Emo, Atikokan, Sioux Lookout, Rainy River, and Red Lake to follow.

Rossana Tomashowski, executive director at the Alzheimer Society of Kenora/Rainy River Districts, said that she was very touched at the flag raising ceremony after receiving a word of thanks from the mayor and hearing personal stories about life with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Most of all, she is thankful for the generosity of the communities throughout the district.

“We’re just so thankful to the community. They’re so generous towards us,” she said, adding that she is trying to keep up with all the donations that came in the last couple of weeks, sending thank you notes from the staff and board.

On January 3, the “Make Your Coffee Break Count” campaign commenced at the A&W franchise in Kenora where Tomashowski often liked to take her own coffee break.

The Kenora A&W was the kick-off point for this year’s Forget Me Not Alzheimers Awareness Campaign. Patrons can donate to programs through a drop-box. This week, a flag was raised in Fort Frances, with flags scheduled to be raised across the rainy River District in the coming days.

In the past, donations would be collected through a donation box positioned by the cashier, “and then we get whatever’s in there,” Tomashowski said.

This year, $1 will be donated to the local Alzheimer’s Society for every coffee purchased on a Tuesday in January 2023 at the A&W located at 924 5th St S in Kenora.

“I’m glad that we’re able to help [Rosanna] out,” said Randy Nickle, A&W franchise owner. “It’s a cause that should have some awareness brought to it, and it was just a nice fit for us to be able to help them out with something as simple as a coffee break.”

More campaigning events to follow include the 50/50 cash draw on January 13 at 2 p.m., a Skate for Alzheimer’s event in Kenora and Dryden, and a virtual presentation on dementia on January 26 from 2 to 3 p.m.

Tomashowski said the skating event in Kenora is private “because we can’t afford to pay for ice time,” she said, adding that the skating event in Dryden is open for the public.

“What the government gives us for funding is great, but we know it’s not enough. And that’s why we fundraise. And we want to make sure that people are aware that we’re here and we’re here to help them,” she said, adding that many of their volunteers were caregivers for loved ones with dementia.

While donations will be collected, Tomashowski said that the focus of the event is on awareness. She is also hopeful that people will feel more comfortable to chat with volunteers at the event rather than visiting their office.

“[Alzheimer’s Disease] affects everybody,” Thomashowski said, adding that unlike other diseases this one affects the mood and behavior, and the whole family too.

“They don’t recognize you and you’re the daughter. So that’s devastating. But at the end of the day, it’s about human connection. That’s how I feel and the people that work here are passionate about it, because they have lived experience of it as well.”

The Forget Me Not flag will be raised in Fort Frances until January 31, 2023, in honor of the individuals and families living with Alzheimer’s Disease.