The BC Search and Rescue Association and the Alzheimer Society of B.C. recently joined forces to help raise awareness when some of the most vulnerable seniors go missing in communities.
In a recent webinar coordinated with the search and rescue association, Sana Aziz, the strategic lead at the Alzheimer Society of B.C., stressed the importance of creating dementia-friendly communities.
“There are estimated 85,000 people living with dementia in British Columbia and approximately more than 60 per cent of those people living with dementia live in their communities. The society’s vision is to create a B.C. that is supportive of people living with dementia,” Aziz said.
What is a dementia-friendly community? Aziz said this can include practical measures, such as having clear, legible signage placed at eye-level so people do not get lost, as well as overall awareness for signs and symptoms of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and mixed dementia are some common types of dementia seen today. It is important to understand that individuals with dementia may experience diverse symptoms, and these symptoms may change as the disease progresses, Aziz said.
“If you know one person with dementia, you only know one person living with dementia. The experience of dementia is unique to each person.”
When communicating with people living with dementia, specific techniques should be used, according to Susan Prosser, the support and education coordinator at the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
This can include setting the stage, using visual cues and asking closed-ended questions. When someone is disoriented or lost, staying calm, providing reassurance and maintaining safety are essential, she said.
“Remember to smile, maintain eye contact if this is culturally appropriate and that will help the person know who is speaking and where to focus their attention,” she said. “Dementia affects peripheral vision, the vision on the side. It’s very important to try and stay front and center, and not sit beside somebody to communicate an important message.”
Considering if dementia is present when helping someone goes beyond just stereotypes of age – there is no specific ‘look’ associated with the disease. Understanding dementia and getting to know the person’s habits and routines were crucial for effective search efforts, Aziz and Prosser told the webinar attendees.
“People can have dementia at different ages. Somebody in their 30s and 40s can have dementia. It’s rare, but it’s possible… It is never safe to assume that age because there’s hundreds of, thousands of people who are 80, 90 years old who don’t have dementia,” Prosser said.