Like many health-based organizations, the Alzheimer Society of Waterloo Wellington (ASWW) has been forced to change how they can assist those that rely on their services due to the coronavirus pandemic and associated public health measures. The changes may be a roadblock, but ASWW is still running its programs, just with some minor modifications.
“The Alzheimer’s Society provides services to support people living with dementia and their care partners – could be their families, it could be their neighbours, could be really anyone who is helping to support the family, and also health care providers – and we provide them with services such as education support,” said Michelle Martin, the organization’s executive director. “And then we also offer therapeutic recreational programs.”
The programs have continued through the pandemic, but have been adapted to meet guidelines set out by health officials, she added.
“We’ve moved the majority of our programming to a virtual format. So, whether that be on Zoom or utilizing YouTube videos or over the phone, we’ve been providing just as much social work support – counselling – as we did before, we just do it over the phone or using video conferencing. We’ve also transitioned most of our therapeutic recreational programming.”
One of the most popular programs ASWW has to offer is ‘Minds in Motion,’ which combines an hour of gentle exercise with 45 minutes of a social programming, and has now been running online via video.
The Alzheimer Society also offers the ‘Music Project’ based on research that shows that those living with dementia benefit from music, which has healing powers that leave emotional imprints for those living with dementia, adds joy to people’s lives and acts as a therapeutic.
To keep the program going, the organization asks for donations of mp3 players, iPods and iTunes cards under the message ‘Give an iPod return a life.’
“Music has been tied to emotional memory for people living with dementia,” said Martin. “For instance, we knew someone’s wedding song, if you could program that into an iPod, they would listen to that music and remember those really positive emotional memory. So that’s what we try to do.”
Martin says the program remains extremely popular and they are always accepting donations.
“What we do is we work with either the person living with dementia or their care partner or both, and try to determine music that has meaning for that person living with dementia. And then what we do is create a personalized playlist,” she explained. “Obviously people like listening to music, but it actually does a lot more than that, it actually de-escalates negative behaviors… it calms people and helps reduce their anxiety, and it also encourages you know fun things, like singing and dancing and toe tapping and all those wonderful things. People may not necessarily remember that they liked that song, but they have those feelings when they hear that song so they can remember those positive feelings as they’re listening to the music. So it’s really impactful.”
As with many charitable organizations, ASWW has seen donations drop dramatically – in this case, 70 per cent – during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group applies for grants to keep its programs going, but she admits that it’s been something of a struggle.
Working with people struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, Martin has identified a common misconception about such afflictions.
“There’s a lot of stigma around dementia. I think people sometimes feel that when someone has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, they kind of picture that person in [the] later stage, sitting in a long-term care home, maybe not speaking, maybe rocking back and forth in their chair, etc. But dementia has so many different stages – not everybody ends up that way. There are many, many people with dementia, especially if it’s early dementia, that live full lives just like we do: [they] go to work, raise children, they just might have to use a little bit of technology to remind them of things, so they might have alarms on their phone reminding them of when certain appointments are or when they have to attend that meeting, etc. And I think, even when you get a little bit further on with the disease, people with dementia are still the same people.”
Although the disease affects people differently, Martin says everyone remains his or her self.
“If they were an artist, they’re still a talented artist. If they were a musician, they’re still a musician. If they’re an engineer, they’re still an engineer. So there’s a lot of talent that I think people dismiss, just because someone has dementia,” she said. “They’re generally much more capable than how we treat them.”
Click here to learn more about the programming offered by ASWW.