Founded in 1995, the Société Alzheimer Laval (SAL) is a non-profit community organization that supports individuals with Alzheimer’s or a related illness. Part of SAL’s mission is to educate and inform families and the population at large who have a loved one that is touched by Alzheimer’s.

In 2007, the administration, external services and the newly created residence section were able to merge under one roof in Vimont. The administration section and the Maison Francesco Bellini (where approximately 10 permanent residents live) are housed in a building that was specifically designed to offer better and more efficient services. Since that time, and through the tireless fundraising efforts of its staff, the community and private donors, the SAL has been able to expand its reach through workshops, training, respite and recreational services for residents and non-residents alike.

In addition to the 10 resident spots available, SAL provides services to over 2000 citizens a year. Approximately 60 per cent of funding comes from subventions, and a whopping 40 per cent from annual fundraising activities.

“When it comes to administrative positions, we keep the smallest amount of staff possible in order to ensure that the majority of all funding goes towards direct services for the population,” says Lise Lalande, Executive Director and spokesperson for SAL. “Our Board of Directors are very much involved in the fundraising efforts that we do,” says Lalande. “And that is one of the major reasons that we are able to offer the services we have.” Numerous volunteers are also required regularly to ensure that as much funding as possible is poured directly into activities and services that benefit the population affected. According to Lalande, the SAL currently has the most services provided under one roof across the province when compared to other Alzheimer societies.

Residence Program
At SAL, the approach is such that the residents (and non-residents alike) are valued and cared for in a way that preserves their personality, preferences and autonomy as much as possible. The SAL is also an accredited organization that gives regular trainings on how to help or support someone with Alzheimer’s. Staff is also given new trainings on a regular basis to continually improve the quality of life of those they serve.

“Our goal is to develop the viewpoint of looking at what the individual (with Alzheimer’s) CAN do, as opposed to what they cannot,” says Lalande. Lalande also points out an important distinction as to the philosophy of all the workers on site. “When someone comes to live here, they are not moving into OUR working environment, we are working in THEIR home.” Permanent residents have their own bedrooms with their own furniture and décor, whereas certain common areas such as the kitchen and living room spaces are shared.

This approach has allowed the workers to personalize the services and care offered internally, since residents’ lifelong habits are respected when they move in. Contrary to most residence programs, the SAL does not force a specific daily or overly structured schedule on its residents. If an individual is used to having breakfast at 11 am, he/she is permitted to do so. “We don’t impose rigorous schedules, because we want them to live and go about their day much in the same way as they did before they needed special care,” explains Lalande. “We really try to cater to who they are, and we take the time to learn their life history to better care for them while respecting who they are.”

Given the reputation for extraordinary care that the SAL has achieved, it can sometimes take a few years before a spot becomes available. When a spot does become available, the potential candidate must go through the regular public system channels to evaluate their current state of health to determine if he/she is a good fit for the environment. This ensures that there are no conflicts of interest when placing names on a waiting list.

Respite Services
SAL provides a whole slew of respite services for the population at large which could not be possible without the help of a large team of volunteers. In addition to the 10 permanent resident rooms available, there are also two private rooms that are reserved for temporary stays, such as when the family of a person with Alzheimer’s must go out of town for 24 hours or several days and requires the SAL’s care to look after their loved one.

The SAL also operates a daytime activity center from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm that includes three hot meals and three snacks, a service which can accommodate upwards of 15 individuals. Should services be required later than that, there is an evening respite program until 10 pm. The program is also available on the weekends.

The SAL also provides in-home services, where councillors meet with the families beforehand to decide on the best action plan for the respite hours provided. The plan might include cooking with the individual, gardening, going to the grocery store, etc. “We constantly cater to the personal needs and desires of that family,” explains Lalande.

The SAL also offers integration with volunteers, and support groups for different stages of the disease, including diverse activities appropriate for the age range of the individual with Alzheimer’s.

Innovative Services
Besides all of the efforts being made to ensure that a multitude of quality services are available to improve the daily living experience of its users, the SAL has also been innovative in their approach. Recently, the SAL became the first of its kind to be certified in the Music & Memory program, which helps individuals with Alzheimer’s or other chronic cognitive and physical impairments to reconnect with their family, friends and caregivers through music. Personalized playlists are created for the individual, and studies have shown a vast improvement in that person’s cognitive, social and even physical mobility once they have been reintroduced to familiar music.

Lalande gives the example of one male resident who, before beginning the program, could barely walk across the room unassisted and had resorted to shuffling very slowly to get from point A to point B. Once the man was introduced to the Music & Memory program, it wasn’t long before he regained balance and strength, to the point of being able to dance autonomously to the rhythm, beat and style of the music he was listening to! No more shuffling or slow, calculated steps. “Music memory is stored in the part of the brain that is the last to be affected by Alzheimer’s,” explains Lalande. “These kinds of programs allow family members to connect with their loved one again, sing together, and even converse about music.”

Another new program underway in 2017 is a network of ambassadors for the SAL’s services, which would have one volunteer ambassador per district who could ensure that the SAL’s services along with other organizations’ services are known around the city, fulfilling part of SAL’s mission to educate and inform the general population about this disease. “It’s really about reaching people where they are, and raising public awareness in their own communities,” explains Lalande, who notes that with only four administrative positions at SAL, they cannot be everywhere at once.

Communication & Care
Fortunately for the population that SAL serves, the staff on hand can accommodate many languages, especially if the individual is in a state wherein they have reverted to their native language which is neither English or French.

Lalande explains that at the SAL, there are always workers or volunteers on board who can translate or communicate with the residents or participants in their language. “Sometimes, just showing them affection, or holding their hand if they are feeling anxious or lonely, can go a long way,” says Lalande. “There is always a way to show affection and care even without verbal language.”