by Shaelyn Poteet, Special to the News
One Abbotsford couple hopes to positively impact the lives of dementia patients by addressing a key component leading to a diagnosis and disease progression: loneliness.
According to the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System, more than 400,000 Canadians over the age of 65 are dealing with dementia today.
Ramsey Oren and Leslie Stettler became aware of the volume of those impacted through personal experience. (The News first featured the couple’s efforts in a story published on March 19, 2019.)
They run a bed-and-breakfast out of their historic Clayburn home, and many people brought family members with the condition to stay.
They told their stories, shared their hardships and gave the couple a glimpse into the lives of what 7.1 per cent of seniors Canada-wide experience.
“As we started to investigate more, we could see very clearly how hopeless it was for people with dementia, how there was a lack of quality care and how hard it was for the people caring for their family members,” Oren said. “It really started to grow on us that we could help them.”
The couple spent 18 months training and researching, travelling across the United States and Canada seeking a model for an in-home daycare that supported families who wanted to keep their senior members out of a full-time care facility for as long as possible. They were few and far between, with most care settings being institutionalized. Thus, the First Light Social Club was born.
“This is not sterile,” Stettler said. “It’s a social atmosphere where they can sit and talk and nobody is assessing their mental capacity.”
The couple partners with volunteers on Tuesdays and, when the numbers are higher, Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Participants are welcomed at the door with a smile and an escort from Lady, a golden retriever. The first activity of the day is tea, coffee and company, where everyone gets to connect with each other, no matter what they can or can’t remember.
After that, they explore the week in history, go on tours of the neighbourhood, participate in musical exercises and art, help in the kitchen and are encouraged to spend their day as independently as they can with non-judgmental support.
“I love it,” said Carol Hedland, a participant. “I like coming here. Everyone is positive and supportive of other people. No one is looking down on you or talking about you behind your back. You can walk out the door feeling good.”
Her husband, Larry Hedland, feels good about it too.
“She comes home and we notice a difference; it’s doing good. It’s worthwhile, seeing the people all together doing things. Sometimes they’re just sitting in homes doing nothing and that’s not good. I think this makes a difference.”
Stettler and Oren want to help as many participants and caregivers as they are able at an individualized level and ultimately they hope that the idea catches on and is replicated elsewhere.
“The biggest achievement for us would be to be copied, for someone else to do this,” Oren said.
It’s a concept, the couple explained, that is easily tailored to unique environments and that could be taken to different levels in different communities.
“Shouldn’t we all care about our fellow human beings?” Stettler said. “How can you ignore someone because they’re different or not as competent as yourself? We all want some connection.”
Visit firstlightsocialclub.ca for more information or to connect with the founders.