SAIT and YouQuest support people with young-onset dementia
Every Thursday, the SAIT community is joined by participants of YouQuest, a registered charity that works with people afflicted with young-onset dementia.
Staff and students might not realize it, and recreation therapist Beverly Hillman appreciates that.
“[SAIT] is such a good fit. If our people were walking down the hallway, you couldn’t tell they have any issues…they’re blending in,” she said.
Hillman has been working with people who have dementia for over 25 years. She is one of the therapists responsible for liaising with the participants and families.
Filling a need for those with young-onset dementia
Cindy McCaffery and Myrla Bulman co-founded YouQuest when McCaffery saw there was nothing for people who had been diagnosed with young-onset dementia, especially if they were still active and wanting to engage with people.
McCaffery is the wife of John McCaffery, who was diagnosed at age 48 with young-onset dementia.
Bulman is YouQuest’s on-site coordinator. Each week, she supports the recreation therapists, volunteers, participants, and families in the planning and delivery of service.
“People don’t expect people to have dementia at this age,” said Bulman.
“People don’t understand that dementia can happen at a relatively young age.”
Some participants join seniors’ programs because they have nothing else. However, the participants don’t want to be there because it’s very sedentary and it’s not their peers, says Bulman.
“When a person is confused about time and space, you can’t push them. But the familiarity of coming to the same room, the same faces each week…it’s like muscle memory for them,” said Bulman.
The project was created in September 2016. In September 2018, the pilot service launched at SAIT.
“It’s just a very vibrant community, period. To be able to be a part of this community is awesome,” said Hillman.
Bulman is grateful to Budd Brazier, Merrilee Beddows, and Patrick Gauvreau at SAIT Athletics and Recreation, saying they are the best hosts YouQuest could ask for.
Brazier was on board right away, offering a room as a home base for the project, says Bulman.
A need to expand
YouQuest is hoping to grow to a second day, since they have over 20 people waitlisted. Brazier has already given the okay for when they do expand, says Hillman.
In order to expand, YouQuest is in need of more core volunteers.
Dianne McDermid, one of their core volunteers, has given her time almost every Thursday since the project started.
Participants start arriving between 8:30 and 9 a.m. A typical day involves physical activity, socializing, cognitive and mental stimulation, and music. YouQuest strives to create a normalized day for the participants.
Hillman says they encourage the participants to make their own decisions. This means ordering their morning coffee at The Odyssey, and most of the time, their lunch at 4 Nines.
On other days of the week, participants might be home alone with no one to talk to, says Hillman.
“We know if they’re not socially engaged, then they’re going to start losing that ability as well, so we really want to support that,” said Hillman.