(As published in the Hamilton Spectator, July 19, 2021)
Tracy Gibbs and Shelagh Kiely
Ontario’s Seniors Month recognizes, celebrates and raises awareness about challenges faced by older adults in our communities. One real challenge affecting many older adults is a growing number of individuals living with dementia.
The Alzheimer Society of Canada indicates there are more than 500,000 Canadians living with dementia today and this number will almost double by 2030. It has been estimated 255,000 people are currently living with dementia in Ontario and approximately 12,000 people are living with dementia in Hamilton and Haldimand.
Last year, the Hamilton Council on Aging in partnership with a team of community partners were granted funding to pursue an innovative project to engage and empower people living with dementia to create positive change in our communities. The Empowering Dementia Friendly Communities project (EDFC) is a four-year investment (2020-23) from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Dementia Community Investment Fund. It is providing an opportunity to engage people living with dementia, their care partners, families and other stakeholders to create dementia-friendly communities in Hamilton and Haldimand county. The goal of EDFC is to advance the rights and interests of people living with dementia and be a catalyst for local change toward inclusive, dementia-friendly communities — where people living with dementia are understood, respected and supported.
To begin this work, it was vital we consider and hear from people affected by dementia. In 2020, we engaged over 300 people living with dementia and their care partners in Hamilton and Haldimand. We learned about the challenges and barriers experienced by people living with dementia to participating in community life. We also heard their ideas for solutions in how we might make our communities more dementia-friendly. A summary of our consultation is now available in a report on our website (EDFC What We Heard, June 2021). This report recognizes the following five themes identified by persons affected by dementia in how we can make our communities more dementia-friendly:
- Empowering people living with dementia
- Challenging stigma and building understanding
- Fostering social inclusion and participation
- Creating dementia-inclusive-built environments and transportation
- Improving community responsiveness to crisis/COVID 19
- 97 per cent of participants we followed up with felt this project is very important or extremely important and over 55 per cent requested to stay informed of future opportunities to be involved. This suggests there is a need for this project and for change. It also suggests people with lived experience care about this work and want to be involved.
- As part of this work, in partnership with the Age-Friendly Hamilton initiative, dementia-specific recommendations have been incorporated into Hamilton’s Age-Friendly Plan, resulting in one of the first Age-friendly — dementia-friendly integrated community plans in Canada.
- Over the next year, the Empowering Dementia-Friendly Communities project, in partnership with people living with dementia, will be creating an anti-stigma campaign and engaging the leadership of people living with dementia to inform and implement local change initiatives.
You can find out more about the consultation, what we heard from people affected by dementia and recommendations in the What We Heard Report on the Hamilton Council on Aging website at www.coahamilton.ca. It is essential the unique and shared experiences of living with dementia are amplified. We hope this project becomes a catalyst for us to learn more about and be actively involved in making our communities dementia-friendly.
Click here for the Hamilton Spectator article.