Naomi Mison, with her mother, Frances, caught COVID-19 in her Alberta care home, and brother Nathan.

With people living with dementia, and their caregivers, facing more social isolation than ever, the Alzheimer Society of B.C. is doubling down on efforts to change the future for area residents affected by the disease.

This January, throughout Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, people across the province are sharing their experiences and hopes for the future. Among them: Naomi Mison of Kelowna.

She became an advocate because of her experiences caring for her mother, Frances, currently living in long-term care in Alberta.

Mison, who was in her early 20s when her mother received a diagnosis of dementia, was on her way to visit her mother in March when the COVID-19 lockdown began. “I didn’t get a chance to hug her, and it wasn’t clear when I would get another one.”

Mison finally received essential visitor status in August and – with protective gear in place – was able to hug her mother.

“I did not realize how important touch was until it was no longer possible.”

Finally permitted entrance to her mother’s room, Mison wanted to enjoy the visit but had to focus on taking care of necessities – getting rid of old clothes, changing batteries, exchanging books – things she hadn’t been able to do for eight months. “You can’t provide the level of care needed when you are unable to access their room,” she says.

An outbreak of COVID-19 was declared at Frances’s care home in October. More than 100 staff members and 62 residents tested positive, including Frances. That led to a tense and surreal two weeks of quarantine during which Mison tried her best to encourage Frances to stay in her room while staff struggled to cope with so many in isolation.

Fortunately, Frances’ case has been declared resolved. But that doesn’t change the pressure on caregivers like Mison, who must navigate complicated guidelines to care for the people living with dementia in their lives.

The Alzheimer Society of B.C. is sharing stories like Mison’s.

“Individual gestures of support — the ripples — create the ground-swell that is needed to help us reach this future. Everyone has a role to play,” says Sherry Wezner, support and education co-ordinator for the Alzheimer Society of B.C.‘s North and Central Okanagan Resource Centre. “You can celebrate Alzheimer’s Awareness Month by staying connected to people in your life who are affected by the disease, raising your voices to advocate and investing in our cause.”

As part of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, people are invited to a webinar sponsored by Clark Wilson LLP entitled, “Raise your voice: Dementia, long-term care and COVID-19,” on Jan. 27.

The webinar will feature a panel of experts and people with lived experience discussing the challenge of balancing health and safety concerns with ensuring families can support people living with dementia.

 “The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on a problem that advocates and support persons were keenly aware of prior to the emergence of this global health crisis: individuals with dementia are too often silenced, and their needs too casually overlooked,” said Emily Clough from Clark Wilson LLP, who is moderating the panel.

“We owe our elders, and those closest to them, a duty to listen, and to respect their dignity and autonomy.”

An estimated 70,000 British Columbians live with dementia.