“COVID-19 has impacted all communities, but rural communities were uniquely impacted due to their geographic location, and pre-existing realities of having limited resources,” AHS said in the case study. “The strength of the Tri-Region area’s cross-organization connections, including those developed through the WestView Dementia Collaborative, fostered a comprehensive approach to the Tri-Region municipalities’ COVID-19 response.”
The WestView Dementia Collaborative was formed in 2018 by Stony Plain FCSS, the Alzheimer’s Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories, WestView Health Centre, WestView Primary Care Network, Alberta Health Services, and community members affected by dementia. The focus of the group was and remains to expand community awareness of dementia and incorporate new strategies that create a friendly environment for people living with the illness in the Tri-Region.
Not long after the pandemic began, it became clear that older adults were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and that persons living with dementia and their caregivers were amoung those most vulnerable to the virus. The case study states that during a time when physical distancing was essential, it became imperative for individuals to find a new way to come together to ensure no one was alone, or struggling to meet basic human necessities.
That’s when the WestView Dementia Collaborative realized it would need to begin offering its services via alternative methods. Through leveraging and adapting its existing community infrastructure and resources, it was able to find new and creative ways of meeting the emerging needs of those living with dementia in their respective communities.
“Things needed to go virtual,” said Stony Plain FCSS Executive Director Lisa Gilchrist. “Isolation is a real challenge for people that live with dementia even during times when people can gather and congregate.”
After collecting diverse perspectives from its various organizations to better determine what services were required within the Tri-Region, the collaborative began offering numerous virtual education programs where residents could participate from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
The “Caring Hearts Connection” program was launched as a safety net for residents living with dementia to connect with support during times of crisis. It was able to recruit 60 participants and eight volunteers for friendly phone calls and check-ins.
Online training sessions were developed for volunteers interested in becoming “Senior Connectors” who target isolation, boost social engagement, and offer information and resources to those in need. The “Neighbourhood Connect” program encourages neighbours to check in on each other via “Connector Info Cards” which act as a safe means of initial contact between neighbours to promote social engagement. They can be found online, printed, filled out, and placed at a neighbour’s door.
“Wanting to make sure that these people stay connected with the community is really important so we made it a priority,” said Gilchrist. “We looked at ways to harness the power of volunteerism that we have within Stony Plain and the greater Tri-Region area to give people as many options for contact points as possible.”
To be recognized in a provincial case study for their hard work is an achievement Gilchrist said invokes a lot of pride. As restrictions continue to ease, the collaborative is looking into the logistics of launching a music program, an art program, a physical activity program, as well as finding out what other initiatives residents living with dementia would like to have the opportunity to participate in.
“The resilience demonstrated by the Tri-Region area, and the strong multi-sectoral relationships within, showcases how the municipalities of Stony Plain, Spruce Grove and Parkland County were able to respond to, and overcome, some of the most unimaginable circumstances while keeping those most vulnerable at the forefront of their endeavours,” said AHS in the case study.