Alzheimer Awareness Month offers plenty of programming for education and awareness

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

January is being once again being officially recognized as Alzheimer Awareness Month in the Town of Fort Frances, and there are plenty of events being planned to help spread awareness of the life-altering disease and other forms of dementia.

Mary O’Connor is the client services coordinator for the Alzheimer Society of Kenora-Rainy River Districts, and she attended a flag raising ceremony in Fort Frances last week to help officially kick the month of recognition off. O’Connor noted that it’s important to talk about Alzheimer Disease and other forms of dementia, especially as numbers of those affected continue to rise.

“Dementia’s numbers are increasing more and more, in Canada and worldwide, and the number one criteria for developing dementia is age,” she explained.

“And as we become an aging population, there’s going to be more and more, so what we are doing is helping people understand what dementia looks like, as opposed to normal aging, and also what we can do to make life better. Each person with dementia is doing the best they can, it’s up to the rest of us to modify what we’re doing so everyone has success.”

To recognize the month, and to help spread awareness and knowledge, O’Connor is hosting a number of presentations throughout January, along with a few Alzheimer Society events taking place as well. Of those presentations, O’Connor notes that one of the later offerings is specifically designed for businesses around town who will inevitably have someone living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia enter their store, and potentially need specific assistance.

“What I really want to talk about is ‘Dementia-Friendly Communities for Retail,’” O’Connor said.

“That one I really hope people come to because the focus is retail. Everybody in the early stages [of dementia], they’re at home, they’re in the store shopping, they’re doing stuff, and what do you do [as a retail worker] when they can’t remember their PIN? What do they’re not sure. It’s specifically geared to retail, and I really hope that the businesses take advantage of this, because it’s free.”

The Dementia-Friendly Communities for Retail program will give business owners and workers tips, pointers, techniques and understanding to help someone who may be in the early stages of dementia, who might mostly be self-sufficient but might suddenly find themselves forgetting something, and then becoming flustered.

“Once they get flustered, things don’t go right, then things escalate and their brains are not going to do what they want to do,” O’Connor said.

“So in those kinds of situations, if you can call in another staff member, take them quietly away somewhere so we can reduce the distractions and their feelings of being in the way and instead just let them relax, maybe they remember. Maybe they have a child they can call to come help them. I mean, in Fort Frances, everybody knows everybody, so someone might know a family member who can help them. But what you want to do is make sure that they feel like they are successful. You don’t want them to feel embarrassed or ashamed.

Other programs planned for this month include Dementia and Communications Solutions, Dementia and Wandering, as well as a program aimed at helping people have a successful visit with someone who is living with dementia, called “Making the Most of a Visit with Someone who has Dementia.” The programs are all free, and will help to broaden the understanding of life with Alzheimer’s or dementia, as well as to help make their life more enriched.

“These are going to be online, they;’re virtual and they’re free to anybody who wants to sign in and watch the presentation,” O’Connor said.

“There will be a time for Q&A, and that way anybody who has a specific question or concern, then they can come in and say ‘Okay, what should I have done? What could I have done to make things better?’”

In her capacity as the client services coordinator for the Alzheimer Society here in the Rainy River District, O’Connor noted that while attitudes around Alzheimer’s and dementia are changing, it still carries a certain amount of stigma, particularly with older individuals who are diagnosed.

“One thing that’s changing is people want to know more information,” O’Connor said.

“A lot of the older seniors, there’s more stigma attached. There’s more, ‘No, I don’t have that.’ The younger ones are saying ‘Oh, crap, I can’t remember. What can I do to make it better.’ They’re starting to look for more help. In the early stages, generally the person, depending on what kind of dementia, know that there’s things going on, and our older seniors are more “I am not [forgetting things]. Why are you making this up?” The younger ones are generally more open to education.”

The complete list of events for Alzheimer Awareness Month is as follows. For more information about the events call 807-486-1516 or email

January 11: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. – Rainy River Active Living Fair: Building a Better Buddy System

January 15: 12:30 – 2:00 p.m.: Creating a Dementia Friendly Community for Retail

January 18: Caregiver Support Group

January 18: 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.: Virtual presentation Dementia and Wandering

January 20: 6:00 p.m. – Forget Me Not Dinner – Gala fundraising event

January 25: 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.: Making the Most of a Visit with Someone who had Dementia