Calgary Herald

Program helps caregivers cope with dementia

- Chris simNett For neiGhbours

An innovative Alberta Health Services program is making a huge difference in the lives of people diagnosed with early dementia and the loved ones who care for them.

Memory P.L.U.S. (Practice, Laughter, Useful Strategies) is a community-based program that supports people with mild dementia, as well as their caregivers. The Memory P.L.U.S. program bridges the gap for many families who are often not ready for Home Care services, but who still require support to prevent caregiver fatigue.

The program, which was developed in Victoria, has been operating in Calgary since 2008. A total of 80 couples have taken part and more than 650 volunteer hours have been logged in 11 sessions over three years since the program’s inception.

The Greater Forest Lawn Seniors’ Centre and the Garrison Green Seniors’ Centre in Calgary each host two, 12-week sessions per year (spring and fall), facilitate­d by recreation therapist Bev Hillman and assisted by volunteers.

“We hope this program will expand,” says Hillman. “There’s a huge, huge need for it.”

Sessions offer education about coping with the changes associated with dementia, but the informatio­n is delivered in a friendly, informal atmosphere through social activities, music, memory games and exercises. Each couple also makes a “memory book.”

Having the person with dementia and the caregiver attend the sessions together is a vital part of the program. To be eligible, participan­ts must have been diagnosed by a physician as having mild or early dementia.

“I learned so much as a caregiver,” says Marie Cameron, who took the program in Forest Lawn with her husband, Garey. “I now realize how important body language is, and to give verbal clues rather than answering for my husband.

“The calming effect of music and rememberin­g to laugh is a great tension breaker for both of us,” says Cameron. “I have learned to respect that he is tired and daytime sleeping is a common symptom of memory loss. Many of these symptoms that could be difficult are much easier to cope with when you understand they are part of the disease — and the group all share helpful hints to make every day easier.”

Caregivers participat­e in the larger group sessions, but the program also offers three separate sessions specifical­ly for caregivers, facilitate­d by the Family Caregiver Centre social worker, that focus on caregiver support.

Such support is important for caregivers, who often speak of the loneliness and isolation of living with someone with dementia.

“The socializat­ion of this program is a good thing for everyone,” says Sheila Priestley, who went through the program with her late husband. “This is the greatest support group I have ever found.”

For more informatio­n on the Memory PLUS program, call 403955-1674.

 ?? Chris Simnett for Neighbours ?? From left, terry mcdonough, facilitato­r Bev hillman and volunteer Bob schmaus stand behind marie Cameron, her husband Garey and sheila Priestley during a memory P.l.u.s. alumni meeting.
Chris Simnett for Neighbours From left, terry mcdonough, facilitato­r Bev hillman and volunteer Bob schmaus stand behind marie Cameron, her husband Garey and sheila Priestley during a memory P.l.u.s. alumni meeting.

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