January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, during which the Alzheimer Society encourages individuals and organizations across Canada to learn more about dementia and its impact on Canadians. So this seems like the perfect time to learn about a new employee of the Alzheimer Society of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFLA) who is providing programming four days a week serving Napanee.
Lorraine Elder Ross has worked for the Alzheimer Society for nearly three decades, and she is happy to now be working out of the Napanee Area Community Health Centre at 26 Dundas Street West in Napanee. She recently transferred to a new post as Education and Support Coordinator for the Alzheimer Society of KFLA in Napanee, after working at the Alzheimer Society of Hastings-Prince Edward for many years.
The KFLA main office is in Kingston, Ross says, “but we have a satellite site up in Northbrook, and then we have the Napanee site. So there has always been a presence in Napanee, but not full-time. I’m super excited to be here. It’s great to work back in my home community.”
Ross explains that Alzheimer Societies across Canada provide programs and support services to help people living with all forms of dementia, including the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease. The Societies also provide caregivers and families with information, education, and resources to help them support their loved one who is living with dementia.
She stresses that it’s not necessary to have an official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to access the free support she provides in Napanee: If you or someone you care about is experiencing the symptoms of dementia, Ross is there as a first line of support to help answer questions.
“I want to encourage people to come to us sooner than later, before you’re in a crisis,” she says. “Early assessment and treatment can make things easier on the person who is diagnosed, as well as their care partner and families. It is so important. We help to navigate the dementia journey.”
Sometimes people experiencing the symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss and confusion, are afraid to reach out to the Alzheimer Society, Ross says.
“Sometimes, I have been told an individual might be afraid that I will somehow take away their driver’s license. I want to assure them I absolutely do not have any authority to do that,” she explains, noting that her services are meant to answer questions and provide support and guidance, not just for those experiencing dementia, but also for their caregivers.
“We can help to provide community resources and information, individual and family counselling, support groups for those diagnosed and for caregivers, recreational programs, and so much more.”
One helpful feature, Ross says, is that Alzheimer Societies in Ontario all offer similar programming, which is great for individuals and families who have moved to a new community; they can pick up right where they left off in a familiar program.
Along with regular programming, Ross has several exciting opportunities coming up for Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
On Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, Ross will be at the Napanee Walmart store from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., providing visitors with information about the many services the society offers. Then, on Wednesday, Jan. 24 at 1:30 p.m., she will host an information session at her Napanee office on the second floor of the Napanee Area Community Health Centre. This special program for caregivers will be an opportunity to learn from a representative from the Community Advocacy and Legal Centre.
“It is going to be a really great opportunity [for caregivers],” says Ross. “The speaker… is going to talk about things like involuntary separation, wills, and power of attorney. These are things we don’t like to think about, but that are a reality for people who are caregivers,” Ross says.
On Monday, Jan. 29, the Alzheimer Society will host an education day for caregivers at Napanee’s St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church Hall, located at 137 Robinson Street, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This event, which Ross likens to “speed dating,” will include a dietitian, representatives from the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON), an expert in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), representatives from the Alzheimer Society, a staff member from Wartman’s Funeral Home to talk about estate planning, and a financial advisor.
Small groups of caregivers will rotate table to table with timed sessions to listen and learn from an expert guest, “and at the 25-minute mark, I’m gonna ring a bell, and you’ll have five minutes left to wrap up and move to the next speaker’s table… Some people are shy and don’t know a lot of people; maybe they’re coming to the event by themselves. But through the course of the day, you’re going to get to meet other people and have some conversations.”
Anyone from Lennox and Addington can participate in the special programs, and there is no charge, but Ross emphasizes the need to register. If you are interested in attending either the January 24 or 29 events, you can register by calling the Kingston office at 613-544-3078 or emailing [email protected].
Ross says she is excited to be able to offer other programming regularly in Napanee.
“We offer a support group for caregivers every Thursday in my office from 10:30 a.m. to 12. It’s just for caregivers to come; we chat about issues of the week and what questions they have. It’s nice for them to share their journey with other people who are going through the same experiences,” she expresses.
In February, the Napanee office will also begin offering a virtual support group specifically for children caring for their parents.
“We see a need for it because we are an aging population, and there’s more people over 60 than there are younger people,” Ross says. “This caregiver of parents support group is very specific to adult children, because caring for your parents is different than caring for your life partner. “
She says this group will be a good opportunity for adult children to ask questions if they are concerned about a parent who doesn’t have an official diagnosis. She can offer help and support around how to have conversations with parents. The virtual support group will run once a month, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Ross chose the time intentionally because many participants who are assisting aging parents are still working.
“We are very much that sandwich generation where we still have our own families. We work, but we’re helping aging parents who may be showing some signs of memory loss,” says Ross.
“Another new program that starts in February, every Monday from 10 a.m. to 12, is called Memory Cafe. This is a social program; it’s all about engaging in conversation. We won’t necessarily even talk about dementia. It’s not a support group format at all. We have games, we’ll do a little bit of light exercise. It’s designed for caregivers and people living with dementia.”
As Ross explains, “One of the things that happens as people are diagnosed with dementia is sometimes their social circle seems to shrink — either because they’re having difficulty engaging, or [because other] people don’t know what to say or do. To address that, the Memory Cafe offers a social outing that gives the caregivers opportunities to build friendships with other caregivers, as well as giving people who live with dementia the chance to engage with other people as well.”
In her role as a public educator, Ross is also reaching out to the municipalities and emergency services to help their teams learn more about dementia. Whether it be emergency services personnel or store staff who have observed customers with behaviour that might be rooted in dementia, Ross says this will be a great opportunity for groups to learn how to better serve people with dementia.
Ross can be reached weekdays by phone at 613-544-3078 or by email at [email protected].
More information on Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and services offered locally throughout KFL&A, visit the Alzheimer Society of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington website.