Important voices in the dementia conversation: Paul and Linda Blanchet

2016 marks the 35th Anniversary of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. As we celebrate throughout the year, we’ll be featuring interviews with important voices in the conversation around Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – people with dementia, caregivers, volunteers, donors and sponsors – who have worked with the Society to support the 70,000 British Columbians affected by the disease.

For April, we’re featuring Dementia Advocates Paul and Linda Blanchet of Kamloops, recipients of the Governor General Caring Canadian Award. We interviewed Paul Blanchet about their experiences with the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

Linda and Paul Blanchet address the B.C. Legislature during a Dementia Friends education session. 

How did you first connect with the Alzheimer Society of B.C.?

Linda and I lived in a close, friendly neighbourhood in Kamloops. Within a week of Linda’s diagnosis, one of our very good neighbours, who works with the Investors Group, called me and told me about the Society’s Resource Centre in Kamloops. Wanting to learn as much as possible about the disease and after hearing from our friend about the great things being done at the Kamloops office, I called Tara Hildebrand – who works at the Alzheimer Society Resource Centre – and arranged to participate in the very next Family Caregivers Series. The information and care provided helped me, Linda, and our families immensely in our early days of learning. Since then, I have come to understand the close relationship between the Investors Group and the Alzheimer’s Society through the Investors Group Walk for Alzheimer’s.

Is there something that stands out for you in your time with the Society that has meaning for you?

Certainly the incredible care and support provided by Tara to me and my family in the earlier days right after Linda’s diagnosis. What struck me was the passion displayed by Tara about her work, and her genuine desire to help people living with dementia as much as possible. At a critical time in our lives, she helped Linda and me get off to a strong start on our new journey. She also spent time with my two teenage children, providing information and caring support to them as they worked on coming to grips with our new family reality. Further, after Linda and I worked more closely with the Society, I have been continually impressed with all the excellent people working at the Society. They all care a lot.

What keeps you connected with the Society?

As Linda and I began our journey with dementia, we both felt strongly that we wanted to do as much as we could to support the Society in its efforts locally and across the province. Living through the transition, we came to understand firsthand how incredible the work the Society does – in raising awareness, supporting individuals and families affected by Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias and working with all levels of government to both educate and drive for more effective use of resources to support people living with the disease. I have already mentioned the great team working at the Society – both here in Kamloops, and at the provincial office in Vancouver. We are keen to keep supporting the Society, because we can! We feel our efforts have helped the Society, and through that, we know we are helping others.

Living in Kamloops, we have enjoyed the friendship of some wonderful people. We have known our current MLAs Terry Lake, Minister of Health, and Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure for a long time – long before Linda’s diagnosis. Both of these men are strong supporters of the work of the Society, and Linda and I feel that our personal relationship with them has provided them a deeper understanding of some of the realities of people living with the disease. Through our relationship with the team at the Society, and with others like Todd and Terry, we know that we are helping the Society build momentum in its efforts across BC. This is extremely gratifying to Linda and me. We simply want to continue to help.

What do you hope the next 35 years will bring for dementia awareness?

The number of people around the world who are living with dementia is always growing. The urgency of dealing with this reality increases every year. There needs to be more money spent on research for a cure, and there needs to be investment in improving how we support people with the disease, their caregivers, their families and their communities. Momentum is building through the hard work being done by the Society and other organizations – locally, provincially, nationally and globally. Through all of that work, awareness is growing, one conversation at a time. Individuals are more aware, people in local, provincial and federal governments are more aware, and changes are happening at an increasing rate.

My hope is that the number of conversations continues to grow, and awareness also grows exponentially. This will lead to more money being made available for research for a cure, and to more effective use of money supporting people with the disease, and their caregivers. Education is a huge part of that – especially for healthcare providers, first responders, and the medical system itself.

And so ultimately, because of the raised awareness and conversations, in the next 35 years I hope for a cure. That changes everything.

What would you tell others about dementia or the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C.?

The biggest thing about dementia is that it is terminal, it is irreversible, and has no cure. I don’t think that most people understand it is not just an old person’s disease. When I talk to people, I want to make sure that they know what it is. And while everyone’s journey with the disease is different, much of the core of the person is there for much of the journey. And that person’s dignity needs to be preserved, and that person needs to be supported on their journey. The other part of the story is that the disease can be very difficult for the caregivers, and that the caregivers also need to benefit from improvements in effectiveness and in the use of resources. The other side of the discussion is that many people will get the disease and they get relatively little help compared to many other diseases.

This takes us back to the discussion about how important the role of the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. is. Momentum is building. The Society is working hard at the Provincial Level – working closely with the Ministry of Health to ensure initiatives like First Link® dementia support are in place across the province. The Society is working hard at the municipal level – pulling together the Dementia-Friendly Communities initiative, and driving action within municipalities. And the Society works closely with people with the disease and their caregivers, with education at the local level, with community-focused events like the Investors Group Walk for Alzheimer’s, and like how the Society has worked closely with me, Linda and our families.

I like to make an analogy about the disease and how we are on a huge flywheel, powering a machine that deals with the disease; the more people getting onto the flywheel, the more it speeds up and gains momentum. I have spoken of the momentum a few times in this interview. I have experienced the results of the building momentum and see more happening. In B.C. – it is the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. that is this flywheel. And they are bringing the people, the government, the money and the solutions together, to get on the flywheel and make real change. The machine is getting more and more done. There will be a day, when the machine spits out a cure!

To everyone at the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. – a huge THANK YOU from Linda, me and my family. I am looking forward to “A cure by the 70th Anniversary!”

Last Updated: 11/08/2017