From social network to safety net: Dementia-friendly communities in rural northern Ontario


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Abstract

Dementia-friendly communities, as communities that enable people with dementia to remain involved and active and have control over their lives for as long as possible, centrally involve social support and social networks for people living with dementia. The purpose of this research was to explore and understand the context of dementia in rural northern communities in Ontario with an emphasis on understanding how dementia friendly the communities were. Using qualitative methods, interviews were conducted with a total of 71 participants, including 37 health service providers, 15 care partners, 2 people living with dementia and 17 other community members such as local business owners, volunteers, local leaders, friends and neighbours. The strong social networks and informal social support that were available to people living with dementia, and the strong commitment by community members, families and health care providers to support people with dementia, were considered a significant asset to the community. A culture of care and looking out for each other contributed to the social support provided. In particular, the familiarity with others provided a supportive community environment. People with dementia were looked out for by community members, and continued to remain connected in their communities. The social support provided in these communities demonstrated that although fragile, this type of support offered somewhat of a safety net for individuals living with dementia. This work provides important insights into the landscape of dementia in rural northern Ontario communities, and the strong social supports that sustain people with dementia remaining in the communities.

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