Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias affect thousands of British Columbians, but asking for or receiving the diagnosis can be challenging and families often don’t know what to do. No one should have to face the dementia journey alone; that’s why the Alzheimer Society of B.C. offers the First Link Dementia Helpline (1-800-936-6033) in the Cowichan Valley and across the province.
A toll-free phone line, the First Link Dementia Helpline is for anyone who lives with dementia or is a care partner to someone who does. It’s also for people concerned about their memory, people who work with people living with dementia or any member of the public who would like to know more.
“Someone might call in because they’re starting to see changes in themselves or someone close to them and want to learn more about the warning signs and how to get a diagnosis,” says Jane Hope, support and education coordinator for the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s North & Central Vancouver Island Resource Centre.
“Most callers are caregivers who need to know who to call or where to turn; we guide them towards services that will help them build the skills and confidence to live with dementia.”
Deanne Matthews called the helpline about a year after her mother Barb was diagnosed with dementia, when she and her sister started to notice changes in her mother’s ability to communicate.
“We realized this was something we needed to start dealing with,” Deanne says. “We were looking to the long term, and had to start making decisions while my mother was still able to tell us what she wanted.”
The helpline is also a resource for people who haven’t felt comfortable reaching out because of fear.
“They’re the people who haven’t reached out at all until it’s a crisis,” Hope says. “We walk them through scenarios and help them understand how they could respond to people living with dementia.”
Cowichan Valley residents who call the helpline will be connected to the full range of services offered through the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s First Link dementia support, including support groups, community resources and education workshops for every stage of the journey. First Link offers education like Shaping the journey: living with dementia, a six-week series that Deanne was able to participate in with her mother.
“It really helped us get prepared,” Deanne says.
Deanne and Barb also participate in Minds in Motion, a social and fitness program for people in the early stages of the disease to attend with their care partner.
No matter why a person calls the First Link Dementia Helpline, Hope says that the goal is always the same: “to make sure that they get the support they need.”
Valley residents who are concerned about dementia can call the First Link Dementia Helpline (1-800-936-6033) or visit alzheimerbc.org. They are encouraged to speak with their health-care provider about whether or not a referral to First Link dementia support would help them.