The Future is Dementia Friendly

Categories: Advocacy|By |Published On: |

Learn more about a toolkit designed to make Alberta communities more inclusive, and how physical activity continues to benefit people living with dementia

Dementia Friendly Communities Project Toolkit

A more dementia-friendly Alberta? There’s a toolkit for that.

The Brenda Strafford Foundation’s (BSF) 2016 Dementia Friendly Communities Project was a two-year pilot program that ran in Calgary’s Westhills communities and the Town of Okotoks. The project aimed to empower communities to reduce the stigma of dementia and build capacity to enable people to age in place. The project also planned to create a comprehensive guide to enable its findings to spread to communities across Alberta. To achieve that, the Dementia Friendly Communities Project Toolkit was released this month.

The toolkit was developed out of lessons learned from the pilot’s programs. The BSF partnered with organizations and city services, such as the Calgary Public Library and the Town of Okotoks, to hold Conversation Cafés (a community gathering space for people living with dementia), awareness talks and dementia-sensitive employee training pilot programs. For instance, high school students in Okotoks learned about dementia through the insight of a clinical neuropsychologist, as well as potential career opportunities to work with people living with dementia.

After observing what initiatives worked and what didn’t, recommendations were created for how to create dementia-friendly communities.

Bryan Gilks. Photo courtesy Bryan Gilks.

Bryan Gilks. Photo courtesy Bryan Gilks.

The toolkit — funded in part by the Government of Alberta (Seniors and Housing), Alberta Innovates, Alberta Health Services and The Brenda Strafford Foundation — is an all-purpose, dementia-inclusive guide that includes case studies, best practices and research in the form of text, infographics and videos.

“The intent was to develop a toolkit that could be used in any community, any neighbourhood, or any city and town, to give them strategies on how to make their communities more dementia-friendly,” says Bryan Gilks, co-chair of the Westhills Dementia Friendly Communities Project.

The toolkit can be used by anyone, including care partners and advocates who want to engage with people living with dementia in their communities in a more sensitive and meaningful way.

The toolkit is broken up into tangible steps to follow and includes case studies of sectors that often interact with people living with dementia, including first responders, health and community agencies and more.

“We wanted to ensure it was as user-friendly as possible by transparently sharing everything that we’ve learned over the past few years so that folks can embark on their own journey,” says Navjot Virk, research and innovation practice manager with The Brenda Strafford Foundation and project manager of the Dementia Friendly Communities Project.

A first responder, for example can watch a video explaining how to recognize someone who is living with dementia in a crisis situation and learn appropriate interaction techniques.

Learn more at

Matt and Lisa Dineen with their three children. Photo by Maryalice Mullally.

Matt and Lisa Dineen with their three children. Photo by Maryalice Mullally.

Sharing the Joy of Dance with People Living with Dementia

In 2012, Matt Dineen’s wife, Lisa, began exhibiting troubling symptoms such as a drastic change in her job performance and a lack of desire to contribute to household affairs. Less than a year later, at 43 years old, she was diagnosed with behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia, a form of dementia that leads to significant changes in personality, behaviour and complex thinking. The diagnosis was devastating for the whole family, including the couple’s three children.

“I don’t think words can capture how painful it is,” Matt Dineen says.

In 2013, Lisa moved into Carleton Lodge, a long-term care facility in Ottawa (where the family is based), because of the rapid progression of her illness.

Dineen began advocating for the rights of people living with dementia, including through the Dementia Society of Ottawa and Renfrew.

In May 2018, at the National Dementia Conference, Dineen saw a presentation of Canada’s National Ballet School’s  Sharing Dance program. Through a variety of opportunities, the broad focus of Sharing Dance is to share the joy of dance with as many people of all ages and abilities as possible.

Dineen knew he had to bring Sharing Dance to Lisa.

“Lisa loved dancing. She was the life of the party. I just thought, ‘She deserves this, and I am going to do everything that I can to make it happen,’” says Dineen.

The program has many different iterations taught across Canada — including NBS Sharing Dance Parkinson’s and NBS Sharing Dance Kids. The presentation Dineen saw was for Sharing Dance
Seniors, a joint venture between NBS and Baycrest Health Sciences, a Toronto-
based health-care and research centre. Sharing Dance Seniors is also part of a study spearheaded by researchers at Manitoba’s Brandon University and Trent University in Peterborough that explores the ways in which dance contributes to the social inclusion of people living with dementia and their care partners.

In Sharing Dance Seniors, classes are led by NBS instructors via video stream, with trained local community staff and volunteers present, helping to facilitate. The program offers two levels, based on the cognitive and physical ability of participants. Level 1 is dementia-friendly and is danced from a seated position, where care partners and loved ones can join in and dance to the beat. Level 2 is slightly longer and offers standing options.

“We all still have the capacity to experience joy. [In class], you can watch the transformation that happens, and you see the smiles on [people’s] faces,” says Rachel Bar, manager of health and research initiatives at the NBS, who helped design Sharing Dance Seniors.

After reaching out to the NBS, Dineen wrote a proposal to the City of Ottawa to bring the program to Ottawa’s four long-term care facilities, including Carleton Lodge. And, this past April, Lisa attended her first Sharing Dance class there alongside two of her three children.

“It was one of the finest accomplishments of my life being able to get that [program] in,” says Dineen. “She was beaming and singing along with the music.”

Learn more at