Dementia plan in the works

The number of New Westminster residents with dementia is expected to double in the next 20 years and the city wants to be prepared by developing what it's calling a dementia friendly community initiative.

A staff report written by senior social planner John Stark says New Westminster has about 900 residents with dementia, and that's projected to increase to more than 1,800 by 2034.

The initiative's intentions are to raise awareness about the increasing prevalence of dementia and find ways to make New Westminster a dementia-friendly community.

The report noted about half of those with dementia live in the community and not in a care facility of some kind, so it's important the existing environment allows those with dementia to have independence. For example, said the report, complicated building designs can be difficult to navigate; excessive signage can increase confusion and disorientation; and uneven surfaces can result in falls.

All these areas, and more, fall under municipal responsibility, noted the report, although some issues will need help from the provincial and federal governments.

Coun. Bill Harper said a lack of awareness in the community often results in many of those with dementia being discriminated against.

"Those people can slip through the cracks and their lives can become a living hell," said Harper.

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy says the issue needs a strong and humanitarian approach. "Every time somebody with dementia goes missing the heart aches and you wonder how that is possible."

The initiative's work plan proposes to establish a working group that will include representation from the city's seniors advisory committee, the Seniors Planning and Action Network, and the Alzheimer's Society of BC along with persons living with dementia, their caregivers and family members. A profile on the issue in New West will be developed and promising potential ways to deal with dementia in the city identified.

The plan also includes developing awareness campaigns with pamphlets, media releases, social media and newspaper ads  to "hopefully contribute to earlier diagnosis and treatment."

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