Care worker and senior woman holding hands 1

- by Sandra Hong

In light of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, I think it is important to acknowledge one of the services we offer at the Alzheimer Society Grey Bruce. We refer to this service as First Link.

Who is a First Link Client?

All clients receiving Alzheimer Society’s core service support are included in the First Link.

Why First Link?

  • First Link supports people with dementia and family care partners through individual and family counselling, support groups and phone consultations
  • Well-informed people with dementia and their family members are better able to cope with the challenges of caregiving
  • Unsupported people with dementia and their family members are more likely to experience crises that lead to costly health care interventions
  • First Link empowers newly diagnosed individuals to understand their disease better, develop practical coping strategies and maximize remaining abilities
  • First Link overcomes isolation by bringing people together to learn about dementia
  • First Link teaches care-giving skills to family members through learning series that are geared to the various stages of the disease
  • First Link staff support clients through tough issues such as driving cessation, placement, advance care planning and family disputes etc
  • First Link clients have a better understanding and acceptance of the disease
  • First Link supports families to care for individuals with dementia in their own homes for as long as possible thus delaying Long Term Care placement
  • All First Link services are free

First Link Learning Series

With respect to early education and support, the Alzheimer Society of Grey Bruce offers a progressive learning series called First Link Learning Series, which was initially launched in 2007 to people living with dementia and their family partners in care.

I have been with the Alzheimer Society of Grey Bruce for 13 years and have had the pleasure of facilitating the First Link Learning Series for as many years.

The First Link Learning Series (FLLS) courses are progressive, each “build[ing] upon the  other to provide participants with a comprehensive overview of dementia, coping strategies,  resources and support systems. Participants have the opportunity to learn and share with others who are affected by dementia.”

The FLLS is designed to allow for reflection of one’s experiences, deliver new materials and information, allow participants to engage with the materials and provide opportunity to apply new learnings, promote peer support, and provide strategies for coping with and managing  their diagnosis.

The FLLS consists of five unique courses, with sessions offered over a period of time.

The series includes First Steps: Living Well with Memory Loss, First Steps for Care Partners, Care Essentials, Options for Care, and Care in the Later Stages.

The FLLS provides opportunities for learning that is timely with respect to the stage of thedisease. For example: Living Well with Memory Loss is designed for people with dementia to assist them with their self-management in the early stages of the disease. Furthermore, a family partner in care would attend; Care Essentials if the person they were supporting was progressing towards the middle stages of the disease.

Below is a complete description of each of the Learning Series:

First Steps: Living Well with Memory Loss

This 4-part series is for individuals newly diagnosed with a dementia and their caregivers. It will help them understand their diagnosis and the changes they experience. Practical and timely support for learning strategies and planning ahead will be discussed.

First Steps for Care Partners

This 4-part series is for caregivers supporting a family member or friend newly diagnosed with a dementia. It will help you understand the diagnosis and the changes that the person is experiencing and provide practical and timely support for learning strategies and planning.

Care Essentials

This 4-part series will offer family members and friends caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias problem solving strategies, approaches for communication and available avenues for support, all of which can strengthen their ability to provide care.

Options for Care

This 3-part information series will offer help to family members and friends caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia to evaluate their current care giving needs and explore other possible care options available, including long-term care, as well as support in the transition process.

Care in the Later Stages

This 3-part series will offer family members and friends caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias; understand what to expect in the later stages of the disease. The series will explore how participants can provide comfort to the person as well as review the experiences of grief and loss.

Based on participants feedback, some important components of this program are that they allow individuals to:

  • Become informed
  • Build and maintain supportive connections
  • And allows for an enabling and supportive environment

With respect to becoming informed, participants have shared that they learned new information, reinforced prior knowledge, and gave them the opportunity to hear about other people’s experiences.

I can certainly add to the benefits of becoming informed from a facilitator’s perspective, in that I too gain knowledge from the participants!
With respect to building and maintaining supportive connections. Participants have shared that their engagement helped them connect with each other, and with their partners

An enabling and supportive environment really speaks to the interactive nature of the program for example, hearing and sharing stories, having an opportunity to ask questions; having persons with dementia and family partners in care participate together.

The benefits also exist for the supportive social environment, which allows time to build rapport, the feeling of being accepted by others; and lastly having great leadership
Participants have expressed that the program has had a positive impact on their lives and has empowered them to:

  • Apply the knowledge gained
  • Draw on existing supports and resources
  • Advocate for themselves and others
  • Be more appreciative of the perspectives and experiences of others
  • Gain acceptance of themselves and their circumstances
  • Acquire a sense of community and belonging
  • Enhance coping skills and develop increased confidence in the role of care partner
  • Prepare for the future
  • Open lines of communication
  • Be more responsive to the needs of the person with dementia
  • Build on ongoing support network
  • Feel supported and not alone

The First Link Learning Series is an important and effective means to learn, and to build and maintain supportive connections with others in an engaging and supportive environment.

If you would like to know more about the programs and service that we offer, please do not hesitate to contact the Alzheimer Society Grey Bruce 519 376 7230 or 1 800 265 9014.

Sandra Hong is the Public Education Coordinator for the Alzheimer Society Grey Bruce



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