First Link: Navigating, Connecting and Caring
By: Bruce Wray, Communications Manager
“I’m sorry but you have dementia.” It’s news that an individual or family member never wants to hear. And with that news comes so many questions and quite frankly, fears. What should I do? Who do I turn to or where do I go for help? When should I reach out for help? Combine this uncertainty with the ever present societal barriers towards dementia like stigma, embarrassment and uncertainty that people can experience and the challenge of living with such a condition quickly becomes overwhelming.
Thankfully in Ontario, there are answers available to all those questions and challenges. The Alzheimer Society’s First Link program was designed to be the first step for families embarking on the dementia journey. The program is designed to connect people living with dementia and their care partners to the support, services, education and resources they need. And while the program can be accessed throughout the continuum of the disease it is most effective when accessed as early as possible.
The program’s effectiveness was confirmed by the provincial government’s positioning of First Link as an important component within the province’s dementia strategy that launched in 2017. The strategy’s $100M budget saw over $8M allocated to First Link (over 3 years) to enhance the program’s critical role for families living with dementia in Ontario. As a result, 46 First Link Care Navigators will be hired for all the local Alzheimer Societies across the province. As of this writing, most Navigators are in place now. The goal of this initiative is for people living with dementia – individuals diagnosed and their care partners – to have consistently-delivered navigation (necessary for our complex health system), invaluable support, resources and care coordination across the province.
First Link is also designed to make the linkages with healthcare providers, including primary care, stronger and clearer. Physicians and other health care and community service providers can directly refer individuals and families at the time of diagnosis or as soon as possible after a diagnosis is made. A study (“Throwing a Lifeline…” McAiney, Hillier, Stolee, Harvey and Michael) showed that people referred directly to First Link by health care professionals received services and supports 11 months sooner than clients who accessed the services themselves. That earlier intervention is extremely important for people living the dementia journey. The sooner you have access to increased knowledge of the disease, to the coping strategies and skills you’ll learn, and access to resources within the community, the better managed the condition becomes. Studies show individuals and families have more confidence in their ability to live well with dementia and feel empowered making decisions regarding their quality of care because of the program.
The main take-away message here is; act early on a diagnosis, embrace the Alzheimer Society’s First Link program and make it the core element in any dementia care plan. Particularly don’t wait for a crisis to happen before acting.
You can contact the Alzheimer Society London and Middlesex office directly for more information (telephone 519-680-2404 or email [email protected]) or have your health care professional refer you to this important program.