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Families praise Health Link dementia nurse service

June 4, 2019

Help is only a phone call away for caregivers with questions

Story by Erin Lawrence

Dealing with a dementia diagnosis is hard for patients and families — but it’s only the first step in a journey that’s fraught with questions.

Joette found herself getting frustrated in trying to find assistance and services to help her parents who live in Winnipeg — and felt she felt like she wasn’t getting the right kind of help. When she called Health Link at 811, the nurse suggested she speak to a dedicated dementia nurse who could give her advice, guidance and help.

“I certainly didn’t know I could call Health Link here about someone who was out of the province, but they were able to help me,” says Joette, who prefers her last name be kept private. “I was very surprised. Initially, we didn’t know this resource was even out there.”

The dementia nurse service is a referral available to callers of Health Link, offered by Alberta Health Services (AHS).

Dementia advice aims to respond to the immediate needs of persons with dementia living in community settings or their care partners, who might need health-related advice, education, information on community resources and emotional support. With a goal of getting better access to the most appropriate information and supports, and reducing visits to emergency departments, the dementia advice line has proven a huge help for many families and patients.

“One of the most significant benefits of the dementia advice line through Health Link is that it can connect all Albertans with dementia-related advice,” says Scott Fielding, senior provincial director, Seniors and Emergency Strategic Clinical Networks.

“As long as the person can access a telephone, they can receive advice from a registered nurse that has advanced dementia-care experience and knowledge.”

The dementia advice line averages 60 referrals a month — an increase of 33 per cent over the past year. Since its provincewide launch in May 2016, the service has fielded more than 2,100 referrals to support Albertans living with, or caring for someone with dementia, including those with Alzheimer’s disease.

The service now also accepts professional referrals to dementia advice nurses from physicians, nurses and caregivers anywhere in Alberta. (Referral forms can be found in the Alberta referral directory.) With the hiring of an additional nurse, the service is now staffed seven days a week.

“I was moving my mom from Nova Scotia to Alberta and trying to figure out what services I’d require,” says Kelly (last name withheld), another Health Link caller. “I called 811 and they got me in touch with the dementia care team, which was awesome. I got a call later from the team — and they were amazing with how they helped me. The information they gave me is invaluable.”

Denise Watt, medical director at Health Link and an emergency room physician, says the Health Link Dementia Advice service has helped thousands of Albertans and their families living with dementia.

“We hear regularly from patients and families about how the service has helped them deal with the complex issues of dementia by providing accessible, timely and knowledgeable care,” adds Watt. “The dementia advice nurses play a crucial role in helping families manage the stress and feelings of isolation that many caregivers face.”

That’s a sentiment Kelly agrees with.

“The Health Link dementia nurses also helped me focus on me, too,” she adds. “As caregivers we’re so focused on others, we forget to take care of ourselves also, and they really helped me refocus. I really, really appreciated that support. Mentally, for me it was really good having that voice of reassurance.”

If you or someone you love lives with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, the service is available to you:

Health Link and the dementia nurse service are dedicated to improving the quality of life for Albertans living with dementia, and their families.

“I would definitely recommend this service to others–and I have!” says Kelly, “My mom is now very happy. Previously she was living alone and had no support. Now she’s active, socializing, and her mind is being challenged. Her diabetes is being managed, too, so things are considerably better. We are very happy with the service we got.”

Joette adds: “The service is amazing and has made such a huge difference. The Health Link dementia nurse answered all my questions — and even anticipated what I would ask — and gave me exactly what I needed to know.”