Becoming Dementia Friendly

Businesses and organizations in Calgary are taking steps to provide support.

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Going to the bank, getting groceries, grabbing a coffee — what if these routine activities were not so simple anymore? For a growing number of Calgarians with dementia, these regular daily tasks can be difficult without the support and understanding of local businesses. That’s why some organizations in Calgary are taking steps toward making the city more dementia-friendly. Programs and initiatives at the following three places show how hands-on education and a commitment to apply what is learned can support those with dementia within our communities. 

Alberta Treasury Branch (ATB) is Dementia-Friendly

A 45-minute training session from the Brenda Stafford Foundation in August and October 2017 gave ATB staff from the West Springs and Okotoks branches a sense of what it feels like to have dementia. It also equipped them with knowledge and tools for handling certain situations.

We want individuals with dementia to come into our branch knowing it’s a safe place to go.
— Vanessa Rodrigues, manager of ATB’s West Springs branch

The training gave staff the opportunity to role-play scenarios of interacting with people with dementia using skills they had learned can be helpful, such as speaking clearly and leaning in when talking. They also learned how effective it can be on a client’s understanding to use a quiet space to talk and to keep music and lights low.

Vanessa Rodrigues, manager of the West Springs branch, believes that training such as this is more than just good for business — it contributes to a more dementia-friendly community overall. 

“We want individuals with dementia to come into the branch knowing it’s a safe place to go. Where they know our staff have been trained and can put ourselves in their shoes,” she says. “We want these individuals to live and age well in the community of their choice and feel safe in doing that.”

Butch Caston, manager of the Okotoks branch, echoes that sentiment. “The most important thing is knowing how your client feels or how difficult things are for them and then making sure you are receptive to making it as easy as possible for them,” Caston says.

Calgary Airport Authority is Dementia-Friendly

In 2017, the Calgary Airport Authority celebrated its 25-year anniversary with a year-long initiative that focused on community engagement. To recognize their crew’s passion for volunteerism, leaders provided staff with various volunteer opportunities (or staff came up with their own) — and one of these opportunities was with the Alzheimer Society of Calgary.

Two staff groups, including the Customer Care team — who manage airport volunteers and are responsible for ensuring positive travel experiences for passengers — attended a full-day of training hosted by the Alzheimer Society. The training involved a morning of education and an afternoon of interaction with members of the Adult Day Program for people living with dementia (called Club 36). Staff reported learning the importance of patience as well as new ways to ask questions to facilitate conversation and comfort.  

“For our team to get that hands-on experience and exposure to what some of the signs of dementia are really enriched their experience,” says Sarah Urbanowski, manager of corporate communications. 

The Customer Care team is now looking into volunteering with the Alzheimer Society on a yearly basis. “It’s important for the Customer Care team to understand what kind of impact dementia has on people who are travelling. It helps them think about the future of travel for our customers,” says Mariel Higuerey, director of community engagement. 

This newfound perspective will also help broaden the ways in which the airport serves the population. For example, the airport’s familiarization program, which helps customers with challenges better understand airport processes, will now incorporate ways to address the needs of individuals with dementia.

Rundle College is Dementia-Friendly

As part of the junior high school’s character-building program, Rundle College has partnered with Calgary’s Brenda Stafford Foundation for a two-year Dementia-Friendly Community pilot project. The project kicked off in June 2017 with a tea for Wentworth Manor residents and grade 7 students, and it was such a hit that all of Rundle College’s divisions now have activities planned with Wentworth Manor for the 2017/2018 school year. 

Educating students about dementia is a key component of the program. They learn the importance of things like patience, empathy and genuine connection. 

“Students are now very much aware when they see a symptom of dementia and how that person may be struggling,” says Beverly Ross, a science teacher at Rundle College. As a result, Ross says, the students are developing a newfound sense of confidence. “It’s empowering for them. They have a sense of knowing how to handle the situation, why it’s happening, what they can do about it and how to make the individual feel more comfortable.”

Ross believes her students’ learning will help to deepen understanding about dementia in the broader community, as well. “Once students get excited about it, parents get excited about it, and once parents get excited about it, their businesses might get excited about it,” she says. “It’s all about awareness and overcoming the stigma, because there are more people with dementia every day that we run into and might not even realize it.” [ ]