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NL 3 year dementia care action plan

The provinces new action care plan is designed to help support people and families dealing with dementia and hopefully end the stigma. – Gerd Altmann / Pixabay (Editorial use only).

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On Thursday, Mar. 30, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced their three-year Dementia Care Action Plan which aims to increase awareness, improve supports and services for those living with dementia and those who care for them, and improve the capacity of the workforce to provide better support to individuals with the disease. The plan has 36 actions within the following four areas of focus: · Increase awareness, reduce risk of dementia, and address stigma; · Diagnosis and coordination of care; · Supports and services for individuals living with dementia, their care partners and families; and, · Professional learning and development. Part of NL Budget 2023 was to provide an annual investment of $3.5 million to support the Dementia Care Action Plan. According to the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, there are over 10,000 people living with dementia in the province, a number that is anticipated to grow to approximately 14,000 by 2035 as the population ages. “Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest senior population, but these numbers, in terms of dementia increasing, is common across the country,” said Shirley Lucas, Executive Director of the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. “We’re all getting older and I think we are going to see more prevalence of it for sure.” Based on the information provided by the provincial government, Lucas is happy with the plan. “In terms of the direct benefit for individuals living with dementia across the province, is that it’s bringing the need to recognize their needs within the province, to light. I think there are a number of good strategies in the implementation of the action plan with key stakeholders being more collaborative to have a more seamless approach to people living with dementia,” said Lucas. “I think it will certainly help in terms of reducing the stigma. It will hopefully provide a more timely and accurate diagnosis for people and then a coordinated system of care. I think it would certainly look at the supports currently available for people within the province and identify ways and opportunities that we can improve on the delivery of services. In terms of the educational point of view, I think that education for healthcare providers is critical. I think that need has been identified for many years within various consultations and I am happy to see that they are looking at that.” The hope is that, with this additional funding, services, diagnosis, and support will all become more streamlined and effective. “There have been challenges with people getting a timely diagnosis. Some of those reasons are a result of COVID where we had some delays in getting access when the world shut down for all of us. It took some time to get everything operating at a consistent level like it was prior to that,” said Lucas. “We also don’t have a lot of specialists within the province. So if you have more difficulty to diagnose cases, then it takes a bit of time to be able to get that diagnosis and it requires some additional cognitive testing which takes time.” Lucas hopes, with proper education and understanding, the stigma surrounding dementia will abate. “Dementia has a lot of stigma attached to it. A lot of people make jokes about the disease because they don’t have a true understanding of the impact for families. I think it will allow people with dementia to feel more inclusive within the community. It will allow the care partners to feel more supported by the community and reach out for help as a result of the general awareness that will be created,” said Lucas. “Lots of times, when families get a diagnosis of dementia, there is a lack of understanding about how impactful it is on families and I think, by increasing that knowledge in the community, we will get a significantly better understanding and more supportive, inclusive environment.” Susan Walsh, Senior’s Advocate for Newfoundland and Labrador, sees the plan as a positive one. “I think the dementia plan is a good step forward. Before COVID, there was work being done on this plan and my office was consulted, about three years ago, and once COVID hit a lot of areas within the Department of Health and Community Services took a bit of a pause, and unfortunately this was one,” shared Walsh. “When I came into the job in June of 2022, that was one of the areas I was checking on. Where is the dementia care action plan? So I had some consultations with the Department of Health and Community Services and with the Alzheimer Society because they are actually a significant partner with the Department of Health and Community Services. I was assured by the Alzheimer Society that they felt good about the plan and it was getting back on the rails.” Walsh reviewed the plan when it came out and spotted some key areas that she believes will make a significant difference. “One is related to the whole concept of training. My office did extensive public engagement sessions in the fall and one of the key areas that families with someone who had dementia were saying strongly was that education is needed for workers, caregivers, paid employees, who are working with people with dementia, but also for themselves. This comes out loud and clear in this report, that they are seeing that too and that is going to be an area they move forward with. I was really pleased with that,” said Walsh. “I think that the increased awareness and social inclusion is also really important. One of the areas my office is really big on is the business of age-friendly communities. When I travel the province, I always try to meet with municipalities and talk to them about the importance of every decision they make, whether it be a funding decision, infrastructure, development. Think about the fact that, if you’re doing it right, all ages are being taken care of.” The Office of the Seniors’ Advocate made a major call for a review of the long-term care and personal care home system in the province, so Walsh was also looking to the report to see if supports would increase there as well. “It was a result of horrendous stories we were hearing about the care of seniors in those facilities. One of the areas I’d been very interested in is making sure that review includes ensuring that the organizations who have expertise in the area of persons and seniors with differing abilities including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, all those dementia areas, and I have had a commitment with Minister (Tom) Osborne that he is going to establish this committee. So looking at this report, one of the key areas I was looking at was if this report will consider the care of people with dementia in long-term care and personal care homes because I think that’s critical. How they’re designed, the programing and supports, all of that is critical, and I did see in there that it is.” Walsh said that this type of plan is what propels the understanding of this type of disease. “Where we were ten years ago, where we are today, and where we are going to be ten years from now, it’s things like this that move that dial forward so we’re more informed and people are more supported.”

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