Providing care for loved ones can have many benefits, but it can also take a tremendous toll; extreme stress is a normal part of dementia caregiving. Thankfully, there are many programs that provide caregivers with education, practical tools and, perhaps most importantly, a network of support for a role that is very challenging. Here are three to consider:
Caregivers of Alzheimer’s and Dementia Wellness Retreat
Melissa Smith Yoga
For many caregivers, a dementia diagnosis can disrupt our sense of connection with our loved one, our community and ourselves. Melissa Smith, an accomplished yoga instructor, started the annual Caregivers of Alzheimer’s Retreat to give caregivers an opportunity to recharge, and to find ways to feel connected.
“The day is really just meant to nourish everyone,” says Smith. “To give them respite and hopefully some tools.”
Smith’s stepmother recently passed away from early-onset Alzheimer’s. For 10 years, her father was a primary caregiver. With her father in mind, Smith designed these annual retreats, offered free of charge, to turn the focus back on the caregiver — if only for a day.
This year’s event will take place at a retreat centre just north of Calgary on April 28, 2018. The session will explore healing and expression through activities such as restorative yoga, meditation, music, writing and mantra chanting.
For more information, go to
Alberta Health Services
Memory P.L.U.S. (Practice, Laughter, Useful Strategies) is a 12-week program for people living with dementia and their primary care supporters. Offered by Alberta Health Services, the weekly, two-hour classes held throughout the city are facilitated by a recreation therapist who covers practical coping strategies such as managing sleep, nutrition and social connections.
Charlene Retzlaff is a registered social worker who works at the Family Caregiver Centre and helps to facilitate the classes. She says the large group setting for the sessions creates a supportive network for caregivers, and normalizes the experience for those who are struggling.
“It’s a very social environment where we focus on connecting people,” says Retzlaff. “When we’re in a room where everyone else is feeling similar stuff, it reduces the stigma, it reduces the isolation.”
For more information, call the Family Caregiver Centre, Alberta Health Services, at 403-955-1674.
Alzheimer Society of Calgary
This program helps caregivers build a tool box of coping strategies. Offered monthly, the workshop consists of two three-hour sessions and teaches the C.L.E.A.R. communication technique (Contact, Listening Actively, Explore Meaning, Avoid Arguing, Respond Appropriately).
Samantha Reay is a registered social worker and a support services coordinator for the Alzheimer Society of Calgary. She says using the C.L.E.A.R. communication tools can greatly improve everyone’s outlook, and points to avoiding arguments as
“Someone who has dementia still wants to feel like what they say matters,” she says. So, if your loved one with dementia insists that the sky is pink, perhaps avoid the temptation to correct them. Some days, Reay says, the sky is pink.
Alzheimer Society of Calgary. alzheimercalgary.ca. [ ]