Action needed to help dementia patient caregivers

Open letter to Minister of Health from the Smithers Caregivers Support Group.

Open letter sent to Honourable Adrian Dix, Minister of Health:

Dear sir,

We are a group of 20 people who are currently charged with the responsibility of caring for either a spouse or parent who is dealing with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia or who has reached a place in their life’s journey where they are no longer able to live independently.

As people who are taking care of our loved ones, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a serious lack of support to assist us with their care.

Firstly, we would like a clear explanation of the process involved in getting someone into the Bulkley Lodge in Smithers, B.C. There is a line-up of people at the hospital waiting to get in and there are some of us who are caring for loved ones at home waiting for them to be placed in the lodge as well. Not only are we concerned for our own safety but for the safety of those dealing with their illness. There is a case where one of our members spent the night in her vehicle because she was afraid her husband was going to physically harm her. There are other examples of these people wandering the streets, lost; of someone digging through the garbage and eating the food she found even though there was no need for her to be doing this. I could go on and on with examples but I’m guessing you are probably aware of a lot of them as well.

It is our understanding that a person caring for someone with dementia is allowed 28 days per year to use the respite services offered at Bulkley Lodge. For someone who is caring for a loved one who is deep in the throws of dementia, 28 days is a drop in the bucket. Our caregivers are wearing themselves out and now dealing with health issues themselves created by the stress of looking after a dementia patient.

We can appreciate the fact that the Bulkley Lodge and the Meadows (also in Smithers) are full to capacity, however, perhaps the time has come for Northern Health to investigate building another facility.

If you go back to 1970, at that time our hospital was a full fledged hospital with an ICU, a maternity ward, a pediatric ward, etc. Even though our population has grown since then and we service a large area, since Northern Health has taken over the running of our hospital the services offered have been slowly eroded until it is almost to the point where it has become not a heck of a lot more than a clinic. What do Terrace and Burns Lake have that Smithers doesn’t? Burns Lake just recently had a new hospital built and now Terrace is on the list — where do we fit in or are we ultimately just going to end up as a glorified clinic?

If we are presented with a situation where our loved one has a medical issue that is a bit out of the ordinary, we have to go out of town. I would like to ask, have you ever had to travel out of town with someone who is ill or someone who is dealing with dementia. Believe me, it’s a very daunting task. For a person with dementia, to take them out of their comfort zone creates a huge amount of agitation and distress. Aside from that, families are forced to pay for the travel involved with all these medical situations.

It’s time Northern Health took their head out of the sand and seriously looked at the issue facing the residents of the Bulkley Valley. The aging population and the number of people dealing with dementia and other serious illnesses will continue to grow. This isn’t a situation that will go away. It is my assumption that you are here to support all of us in our medical needs. We aren’t going to go away, our numbers will continue to grow.

We need help and the help that Northern Health is providing does not even come close to meeting the needs of our ailing elderly or the people who are caring for them.

We want answers and we want action from you. We are tired, very tired. We look forward to your timely response.

Yours truly,

The Smithers Caregivers Support Group

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