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Alzheimer Society provides First Link to communities

Discovering you or a loved one has Alzheimer's disease or related dementia is tough. Denial, anger, and fear may all be present at once. With so many unanswered questions, you may not know where to turn.

Discovering you or a loved one has Alzheimer's disease or related dementia is tough. Denial, anger, and fear may all be present at once. With so many unanswered questions, you may not know where to turn.

This is where Alzheimer Society's First Link comes to the rescue.

"First Link is a program developed in 2006 in Ontario, and the idea behind the program is that doctors and other healthcare professionals can make direct referrals to the Society," explains First Link coordinator for Alzheimer Society Saskatchewan, Trina Hodgson.

First Link works by breaking down the barrier between the Alzheimer Society and people who require its help. Instead of the Society waiting to hear from someone - often times the individual is already in crisis - the Society contacts the person and offers support after the initial diagnosis from a physician.

"If we can gather their information and we make that initial call, they're more likely to engage in the services of the society," explains Hodgson. "Once the doctor has provided us with the person's information, we make that phone call, and we make an intentional follow-up, as well."

"Our goal is to meet with people as early as diagnosis," explains Hodgson. "The sooner we can meet, the more likely they're going to benefit from what they learned, and the more likely their families are to be supportive through the disease process. And, the research shows they are less likely to come to crisis. The research also shows that people who access services and are educated about this disease process will stay out of long-term care a year-and-a-half longer than people who don't access services."

Hodgson says people are relieved to hear from the Society after a diagnosis. The people who are referred to them are open to receiving the calls and are eager to learn about the available services.

The Alzheimer Society offers services, such as, information, education and peer support to people living with dementia, and to their caregivers and family members.

"It doesn't matter where they live in our province, they have access to our services - first of all, one-on-one counselling through our 1-800 number," says the First Link Coordinator. "We teach our learning theories via the Telehealth technology. We have one coming up throughout the province in February. We're teaching mainly in Saskatoon, and then it's broadcast throughout the province."

People can access the Alzheimer Society Telehealth classes in many locations across the region including, Arcola, Estevan, Weyburn, Oxbow, Gainsborough, Wawota, or wherever there is a Telehealth site.

"We have five different series; it matches the disease progression," Hodgson explains. "During the first of the series, we teach to the person with the disease in the early stages, and their care partner. Then it goes on from there. There is a matching series, called 'Next Step for Families' where we teach introductory information about the disease, things like future planning, coping strategies, communication strategies, and basically what is happening in the brain."

"Then we go on to teach 'Care Essentials,' which is coming up in February. We also teach 'Options for Care.' The last one is 'Care in the Later Stages.'"

People can also contact the society through a 1-800 number at any time.

"We encourage people to do that," says Hodgson. "We do have support groups in various communities across the province. In this area of the province, we have one in Carnduff and one in Estevan."

"Right now, we're making considerable effort to move out into the Sun Country Health Region, into Cyprus Health Region, and into Prairie North," continues Hodgson. "For instance, today we stopped by doctors' offices [and] pharmacies, letting people know what we have to offer. We had some meetings in Estevan in order to do an in-person teach of our learning series, so we're working closely with Sun Country Health Region to do that. We have a mandate to be out in Sun Country Health Region, supporting people with Alzheimer's diseases and related dementia."

While there are many supports available to people being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia, early diagnosis remains a major challenge in Saskatchewan. Family members and friends can be wary of signs associated with dementia; however, having one or more of the signs does not necessarily mean someone has Alzheimer's disease or related dementia.

"Sometimes people will recognize it in themselves," says Hodgson. "As we say, the warning signs are more than just memory loss. They include, change in behaviour, change in mood, depression, becoming reclusive, getting lost in familiar places, and things of that nature."

"We want to remind people, the warning sign has to be new to you," she continues. "Often times you read through the warning sign and think, 'I'm doing this and I'm doing this,' but if it's not new, and you've been doing that since you were a teenager, than it's not a warning sign."

For more information about the Alzheimer Society in Saskatchewan, visit The toll-free number is 1-800-263-3367.

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