Firefighters helping dementia patients

Jodi Schellenberg
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Although many diseases have gimmicks to raise awareness, dementia is not one of them and is often not talked about.

Firefighter Sensory Station

The Prince Albert Fire Department is putting on a fundraiser barbecue on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Giant Tiger, who is also helping sponsor the event. All the proceeds from the barbecue will go towards the Firefighter’s Sensory Stimulation Centre at the Herb Bassett Home.

The firefighters have been involved with the stimulation centre since before many of the current members were on the charity committee.

“It is a room we have been funding for almost the last five years now and we have donated close to $15,000 over that span,” said Adam Dziadyk a member of the fire department’s charity committee.

Since everyone is impacted by dementia, the firefighters wanted to try to do something to help.

“It seems like I run into more and more people that have family with members who have dementia,” Dziadyk said.

Donna Dalziel, one of the founding members of the Active Engagement Program along with Steve Kowal and Barb Steen, said the fire department came on board when they were developing the program and wanted to get involved.

“The reason this program is so important is because any resident with dementia, the figures are horrific as far as what happens to their senses,” she said. “You and I get 300 stimuli daily -- that is using all our senses and that is keeping us alert and going and doing, whereas a dementia resident typically has 40 stimuli daily so that is a reduction of 87 per cent in the stimuli when you have dementia.”

The Firefighter’s Sensory Stimulation Centre works through different activities to help stimulation all of the five senses.

“People like my husband -- Don is very disengaged from life itself, she explained. “There is no expression, there is no humour, there is no enjoyment, there is no pain. He is flat lined as far as senses go.

“When I take him into this stimulation centre … he then reengages with the world through fibre optics, through story wheels, through bubble tubes, through many other tactile type activities that are in this room,” she added.

It can also help with residents who are agitated and angry. The sensory activities help dissipate their anger and make them calm.

“This stimulation room is good for all sorts of people who are in long-term care -- people with dementia and people with other types of illnesses,” Dalziel said. “It is has been shown time and time again that if you continue to access your senses, you will either get that little pep up to become more engaged or a calm down to calm you if you are aggravated.”

There have been a lot of success stories in the last year since the centre has been operational.

“It enables people with dementia and other diseases to become more engaged in life itself,” she said.

Since dementia is becoming more prevalent, Dalziel said it is soon going to dwarf other illnesses.

“We hear about all the other illnesses and there are huge fundraisers for all the other illnesses (but) dementia -- who expects to get dementia when they are 50?” she said. “This is happening more and more frequently and getting dementia when you are older has certainly mushroomed too.”

Sadly that is what happened to her husband, who at 55 cannot drive and carry on a conversation.

“For the young people, like my husband, we were looking forward to retirement,” she said. “Dementia is when you are much older than that. It cuts you off at the knees because you lose your partner and you have a child in place of a partner.

“It is completely life-altering for the entire family,” she added. “I am so grateful for the firefighter’s charity to take on this cause because there is so much more we need to learn about dementia.”

Those who cannot make it to the barbecue can still make a donation -- at the Giant Tiger till for the next six weeks, people can donate $1 and have their name written on a pledge poster, courtesy of P.A. Fast Print, which will be posted in the store. 

Organizations: Giant Tiger, Prince Albert Fire Department, Herb Bassett Home

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