Area residents can access information about dementia and memory loss by contacting the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s toll-free First Link Dementia Helpline. (Submitted)

Area residents can access information about dementia and memory loss by contacting the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s toll-free First Link Dementia Helpline. (Submitted)

Helpline extends hours to support caregivers during pandemic

“Most callers are caregivers who need to know who to call or where to turn.”

Physical distancing, self-isolation and quarantine have been a difficult transition for most British Columbians but they have been particularly challenging for Cowichan Valley residents living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, their caregivers and family members. To help them, the non-profit Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s toll-free phone line, the First Link Dementia Helpline, provides support and information about dementia and memory loss until 8 p.m. Monday to Friday.

People who call the helpline will be connected to the full range of services offered through the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s First Link dementia support programs. These include online education workshops for every stage of the journey, caregiver tele-support groups and community resources. In addition to crucial emotional support and a listening ear, callers can also access information about living with dementia during COVID-19, including practical strategies on a variety of topics, such as behavioural and communication challenges.

“Someone might call in because they’re starting to see changes in themselves or someone close to them and want to learn more about the warning signs and how to get a diagnosis,” says Carly Gronlund, the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s provincial coordinator for the Dementia Helpline. “Most callers are caregivers who need to know who to call or where to turn. We guide them towards services that will help them build the skills and confidence to live well with dementia.”

The evening hours were added in March this year as part of the Society’s plan to meet increased demand, particularly for support during evening hours. Since the pandemic began to dramatically affect our day-to-day life in March 2020, the helpline has seen a dramatic uptick in phone calls. Callers have shared a particular interest in communication strategies, with many caregivers wanting guidance on how to deal with questions about the pandemic. Others have sought support for feelings of stress, burnout, as well as information about long-term care and visits.

“The late hours allow for us to be available for people in an extended way,” adds Gronlund. “Being available in the evenings provides people with the opportunity to finish work, ‘unpack’ and then call us for support and information. We understand the journey that people affected by dementia are on and how overwhelming everything can feel, especially at the moment. We want to make ourselves as available as possible.”

The helpline is available Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. for anyone who would like information and support on dementia, memory loss or general brain health, by calling 1-800-936-603 (toll-free).

No matter why a person calls the First Link Dementia Helpline, Gronlund says, the goal is always the same: to make sure they get the support they need.

The Alzheimer Society of B.C. also offers a First Link Dementia Helpline in Punjabi (1-833-674-5003), where individuals and families within South Asian communities can receive language- and culturally-specific support, as well as a helpline in Cantonese or Mandarin (1-833-674-5007). Both are available from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. from Monday until Friday. Learn more at: alzbc.org/fldhl

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