The Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre (FFPLTC) is one of the first organizations in the province to take advantage of a new program coming from the Alzheimer Society that aims to provide a better understanding of dementia
The FFPLTC and CEO Joan MacLean were presented a certificate acknowledging their completion of a support course from Alzheimer Society of Kenora-Rainy River District client services co-ordinator Mary O’Connor on Wednesday, September 21, 2022, which also marked World Alzheimer’s Day. With certificate in hand, the FFPLTC is now better prepared to offer a building and service that is more accessible to those living with dementia, along with a staff who are better prepared to interact with them in a constructive and supportive fashion.
“Canada-wide, each province is doing its own dementia-friendly community program,” O’Connor said.
“Here in Ontario, we’re part of the pilot project, so we’re just beginning to get going on having dementia friendly communities. There are two ways people can participate; the first way is the dementia friendly educator, the other one, the one the library did, is the dementia friendly supporter. For a dementia-friendly supporter, they do either online modules or have me come in to do in-person stuff, and they also sign a contract with the Alzheimer Society that they want to have 75 percent of their frontline staff trained with dementia.”
O’Connor said the supporter program can be tailored to the needs or desires of the business or organization who is taking the course, and part of signing up for it is that the business or organization agrees for a yearly refresher or update course. The dementia-friendly educator program, on the other hand, is a one-and-done affair.
O’Connor said the goal of the dementia-friendly communities program is to increase the number of dementia educators and supporters in any given community, and that in turn will help those living with dementia better access the businesses and organizations around them. Taking the library by way of example, not only did the course better prepare the staff at the FFPLTC to interact with and support those living with dementia who might frequent the library, but it also helped them to increase the overall accessibility of the building.
“We look holistically,” O’Connor explained.
“We talk about the level of background noise, do the taps have ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ labelling, is signage at eye level? there’s all of that, and we also talk about how the interactions go, what you say, what you do.”
MacLean noted that the education provided to staff has been a key part of their participation, where the frontline staff members are now better armed with knowledge and techniques to better help those living with dementia.
“We have staff who are prepared to deal with situations of people who have these types of challenges,” MacLean said.
“I do find that with my staff, there is a quicker response of ‘oh, the patron must have some kind of mental challenge, depression, or Alzheimer’s, or this or that,’ that there is something going on there where the response isn’t what we expected.”
The library is a natural fit for such a pilot program. MacLean pointed out that the library has long been a champion for accessibility in areas like font choices for better sign and pamphlet readability, even large-print books and resources, so making accommodations for those living with dementia isn’t out of the ordinary.
“We are for everybody in the community,” MacLean said.
“This is another way that we can expand our reach to people who think that there’s nothing here for them, or people who are coming in and as they’re aging are finding more difficulty with interacting with the world. We want to make it as easy as possible for them.”
As the Dementia Friendly Communities project is still in its infancy, O’Connor said she is taking the experience of the FFPLTC and using it to provide feedback further up the line to help shape and influence the project to better address the needs of community partners in the future. Limiting the pilot project to southern areas of the province would present a skewed idea of what communities need, and O’Connor said the Alzheimer Society recognizes this potential pitfall.
“We are just starting this, so we are one of the pilot societies that are doing this,” she said.
“They’re taking all of our feedback and they really want to have input from the north as well, which I think is so important. They have a program for transit. What’s that going to do for us? They don’t understand that. The library is a really drawing card for so many people, and I think it’s so important that there’s a safe place. That’s what we want to create here.”
O’Connor said her goal, not only as a dementia and Alzheimer educator but also a member of the provincial board implementing these programs, is to reach as many different individuals, businesses and organizations as possible to continue to spread education and awareness for those living with dementia, as well as to make the community a more accessible and welcoming place. To that end, she encourages everyone in the area to think about their accessibility status and step up to add dementia awareness and support to the list of services they can provide.
“My goal is to educate everybody,” she explained.
“Whether it’s a retail store, a bank, anybody that’s out in the community. Everybody in the early stages of dementia is out in the community, that’s where they are. The sooner that the people in the community learn what to say and what to do, then the better it is going to be, because the person with dementia is doing the best they can. People here can be lost very easily, and we want to keep the community safe.”
O’Connor said she would like to do two different groups per month through the winter and into the spring in order to both increase the number of people with working awareness of dementia in the community, as well as to gather feedback and improve the programs she’s offering. Once March arrives, O’Connor said she will send off as much feedback as possible to the Societies and the provincial board for consideration. To that end, any local businesses or organizations are welcome to contact her to learn more about the Dementia-Friendly Communities program and how to sign their staff up for one of her online or in-person courses.
For more information about Dementia-Friendly Communities, visit the Alzheimer Society of Kenora-Rainy River website, or contact O’Connor at email@example.com.