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It Takes a Village: Ontario Dementia Care Safety Program

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonJuly 7, 2014

A unique public safety program in Ontario, Canada aims to keep people with dementia safe and active in the community, and involves everyone from caregivers, family members and neighbors to  transit workers and shopkeepers — in eight different languages. Learn more about how the Finding Your Way program rolled out a successful campaign to educate the public on how to protect this vulnerable population in the wider community.

One of the most common symptoms of dementia is wandering and getting lost. According to the Alzheimer Society of Ontario, 6 out of 10 people with dementia lose their way and go missing, with 50% of those missing for 24 hours prone to serious injuries or death. In the event of a wandering emergency, saving precious time is critical. Having a plan and engaging the community about what to if someone with dementia goes missing can save lives.

That’s why the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario and Government of Ontario, put together a pioneering dementia public safety program called Finding Your Way, that helps caregivers and those with dementia reduce the risk of getting lost or going missing in Ontario’s diverse, multilingual population. Such efforts will only become more important as the prevalence of dementia in Canada — and worldwide — continues to increase.

Dementia in Ontario

With the aging of the baby boomer generation, the number of people at risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is expected to grow rapidly over the coming years. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia — accounting for about 64% of all dementia in Canada, according to the Alzheimer Society of Ontario —  and the annual economic burden is staggering. Through the year 2020, dementia costs are expected to increase by more than $770 million per year on average.

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Recent reports indicate that 500,000 Canadians are currently living with dementia, 1 in 6 of whom are under age 65. The number of Ontarian seniors with dementia has increased by 16% over the past four years, with one out of ten seniors —nearly 200,000 over the age of 65— living with some form of dementia. The Alzheimer Society says,

“By 2020, nearly one quarter of a million seniors in Ontario will be living with dementia.”

Keeping Mom Safe Without Taking Away Her Freedom

Faced with the hard facts of an inevitable increase in dementia cases, the Alzheimer Society of Ontario initiated their Finding Your Way program with its multilingual population in mind. “The reality is that the disease affects men and women of all races, religion and socioeconomic backgrounds, underscoring the need to raise awareness across all ethno-cultural groups,” said Gale Carey, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Ontario. Even more worrisome, as the incidence of Alzheimer’s keeps rising, so too does wandering behavior.

The Finding Your Way campaign was launched in 2013 with public service announcements and safety information not only in English and French, but also in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Punjabi. Since then, the program’s resources and a safety kit for those families caring for a loved one with dementia — a set of tools and resources to help ensure the person’s safety and preserve their independence and dignity have been made available on the main Alzheimer Society of Canada website.

Tips For Creating a Dementia Safety Plan

1. Don’t hesitate to call 911. If a loved one does go missing, time is critical call 911 right away. Tell police that a person with dementia missing.

2. Download an identification form that can be completed in advance and provided to emergency searchers. The form includes space for a photo, identifying characteristics, medical information and potential places to look.

3. Consider using the MedicAlert Safely Homeprogram, a partner of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, which includes an ID bracelet and other services to help ensure the safety of someone with dementia who might wander.

4. Get familiar with otherlocating devices that harness technology to help locate people with dementia who get lost, and connects to local services like Project Lifesaver.

5. Have someone go with them on outings. If you’re comfortable with them going out on their own, make sure someone knows where they’re going and checks that they get back on time. Ask neighbours, friends and family to help out.

Whether you have symptoms of dementia yourself, are a caregiver for a loved one with dementia, or whether you’re a concerned member of the community, the Alzheimer Societies of Ontario and Canada as a whole encourage you to take advantage of these resources and get educated about dementia and the dangers of wandering. Scary as the statistics are, it is possible to make a difference in the well-being of those currently living with dementia as well as those untold numbers who will be diagnosed in the future.

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What tips do you have for other caregivers in keeping their loved ones with dementia safe? Add to the conversation in the comments below.

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Sarah Stevenson
Sarah Stevenson
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