The organization has put an emphasis on accessible resources and weathering the pandemic together
Like many organizations that regularly connect with clients in-person, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a period of major transition for the Alzheimer Society of Calgary. The Society is dedicated to offering support for caregivers, families and individuals living with dementia through day programs, workshops and gatherings, and the pandemic made it clear that in-person initiatives were too much of a risk. Instead, the Society moved quickly to create and add to its remote methods, adapting to the situation to continue its essential work for the population it serves — many of whom are older adults and particularly vulnerable to the virus.
“Staying connected and continuing to be adaptable is huge,” says Alzheimer Society of Calgary Community Education Specialist Cindy Bond. “We’re learning as we go and trying to stay ahead of the curve.”
The non-profit acted fast as the pandemic began, with staff transitioning to working from home on remote initiatives. Central to the approach has been accessibility, with social workers fielding phone calls regarding questions and concerns for care, plus the addition of afterhours phone and Zoom video communication availability, Facebook Live chats and virtual support groups, which are now up and running.
For Theresa*, these resources have come in handy. Theresa has been active in Calgary’s dementia community for several years, gathering information from events and publications to pass on to her father, who is the primary caregiver for her mother who is living with dementia.
Theresa says COVID-19 opened up new challenges for her mother, including heightened paranoia stemming from TV news coverage of the pandemic.
“As COVID began, my mom was becoming increasingly agitated,” says Theresa, noting that watching the six o’clock news was previously a part of her parents’ daily routine.
Out of concern, Theresa decided to make a call to the Alzheimer Society of Calgary, where a social worker suggested keeping her mother away from daily news coverage for the time being. After passing the advice along to her father, he came to the solution of recording favourite shows rather than watching live TV in order to help control media intake while still providing access to the programs she loves.
For Theresa, the ability to continue to access these avenues of support and figure out solutions, even if just temporary, has been empowering.
“It’s a very potent form of communication. It can alleviate, remediate, mitigate situations and offer solutions,” says Theresa of the direct communication option offered through Alzheimer Calgary. “It’s [about] having a sense of purpose and taking action.”
Elsewhere on the Alzheimer Society of Calgary site, resources such as webinars have replaced in-person events for the time being. While content is often tailor-made through listening to concerns, researching solutions and consulting expert community collaborators, Bond also notes the effectiveness of looking to locations like the UK and Germany to see how they’re dealing with similar concerns. “Sometimes it’s not reinventing the wheel,” says Bond.
Day program adaptations have also been made. Activities like music, bingo and exercise classes offered through Alzheimer Calgary’s day program, Club 36, have moved online through video calls, creating opportunities for socialization in a particularly isolating time. According to Bond, the day program staff have been able to regularly check in and interact with all of their members, and have delivered food to many, throughout the pandemic.
“What we do know from the research consistently is that mental health and physical health are directly impacted by isolation,” says Bond. “Bringing [people] even closer into that community of care and heading that for them is truly our mission at this time.”
With the uncertainty of the pandemic still in place, fluidity has been essential to the Alzheimer Society of Calgary’s response. Though transition is not always completely smooth, Bond says a willingness to adapt and be there for the community remains at the core of the organization.
“We’re not afraid to make mistakes, that’s part of our growth and learning,” says Bond. “We’re trying new things and [watching if it] worked. And if it doesn’t, we’re on to something else. We’re here, we’re not going anywhere — we’re in this together.”