A specialized service that was rolled out to rural zones in the province in 2015 is now being expanded to provide dementia patients and their families in the Calgary and Edmonton areas with access to immediate advice from healthcare professionals.

There are currently about 40,000 Albertans living with dementia, which affects their memory, cognitive skills and ability to do daily activities.

Health officials say they expect the number of dementia cases to more than double in the province as the population ages and it’s estimated that about one in ten Albertans over the age of 65 will be living with dementia by 2038.

Health Link started providing specialized dementia advice in the North, Central and South Zones last September and staff have already provided advice to over 250 Albertans.

“Initially, the service was provided in the rural zones because we determined this was the greatest and most immediate area of need,” said Lara Osterreicher, Director of Operations for Health Link. “Typically, rural and remote areas don’t have access to the same level of services as our urban centres so we worked to get dementia advice to these areas first. We’re very pleased to have now expanded the service throughout Alberta.”

Albertans can now call 811 anytime and they will be connected with a Health Link member who will assess their needs and provide advice and support.

A specialized dementia nurse is also available for additional guidance and to provide a more in-depth assessment and personalized support.

 “Providing funding for the development and expansion of dementia advice through Health Link was essential to meet the growing needs of Albertans touched by dementia and Alzheimer’s,” said Sarah Hoffman, Minister of Health. “Ensuring support is available 24/7 for 365 days a year, regardless of geography, is an important step in ensuring people with dementia and their families and caregivers have access to the care they need, when they need it.”

“The progression of dementia is unpredictable and care needs can change rapidly,” said Scott Fielding, Senior Provincial Director, Strategic Clinical Networks. “Having access to services and supports at the right time can make the difference between a person being able to remain at home with loved ones or having to move to a higher level of care.”

It is hoped that the new dementia advice service will reduce the number of emergency department visits for dementia-related issues.