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January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and I’d like to take this opportunity to focus awareness and attention on this devastating disease, and briefly describe how Alberta’s government is addressing this world-wide health priority.
There are currently over 58,000 Albertans living with some form of dementia. My thoughts go out to all these Albertans, their families and caregivers. I think dementia is a particularly cruel disease – not just for the person, but also for loved ones supporting the individual, who may no longer be recognized.
Over time, Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia) targets brain cells, leaving the individual unable to process their environment, follow a conversation or communicate clearly. It can also reduce physical mobility, affecting the ability to carry out everyday tasks – such as getting dressed or eating independently.
Personality, mood and behaviour are also impacted – which can be a challenge for everyone involved.
There are medications available to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, slow cognitive decline, and improve quality of life. But at this time, there is no cure.
Fortunately, it is possible for people living with dementia to have a good quality of life. That is why our government remains committed to Alberta’s Dementia Strategy and Action Plan. The plan was developed in response to the growing number of Albertans living with dementia and recognizes gaps in supports and services for persons living with dementia and their caregivers.
We are addressing those gaps by enhancing care for people living with dementia – ensuring that timely diagnosis and support is accessible, and providing integrated and high quality care and services.
To date, the Government of Alberta has invested roughly $12.8 million to support people living with dementia, from onset through to end of life, and expand access to programs to rural and remote communities, such as the First Link® program.
Dementia is a progressive disease, so some Albertans in the early stages may still be working. Through funding, materials are being developed to help Alberta employers understand the impact of dementia in the workplace, and implement practices to support employees dealing with dementia, and create inclusive workplaces.
Other projects are focused on developing and testing practical innovations at the care level, educating staff, implementing technology that stimulates the senses and cognition, and enhancing environmental factors to increase quality of life.
In addition, $3 million has been invested in supporting caregivers across Alberta. The funding expands support programs and resources for the almost one million dedicated Albertans who are caregivers for family and friends, so they have access to the supports they need to maintain their well-being. Family caregivers must be supported and communities must be enabled to empower people living with dementia.
I wish to thank all the physicians, staff and community partners – Alzheimer’s Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories, Alzheimer Society of Calgary, Alberta Health Services, Covenant Health, Caregivers Alberta, among many other community partners, for their ongoing work and ability to creatively adapt dementia programs and services during the pandemic. It hasn’t been easy, and your tireless commitment is very much appreciated.
If Albertans need support for a loved one or someone they care for, or are concerned someone they know may have dementia, I encourage them to reach out to the Alzheimer’s Society. The society can provide valuable information, resources and support to help those living with dementia, families and caregivers better cope through the many challenges, and assist those with Alzheimer’s live the best life possible.
Tyler Shandro served as Minister of Health from April 30, 2019 to September 21, 2021.