‘Who better than the Alzheimer Society to provide guidance to the new age-friendly community movement?’
OPINION Nov 03, 2017 by Kathryn Poirier – Brant News

Alzheimer Society CEO Mary Burnett was one of the early leaders in the age-friendly movement for Brantford-Brant.

The Grand River Council on Aging was incorporated in November 2010. The past seven years have been busy ones. Much of the success can be attributed to the solid partnerships and positive relationships that support its role in the communities of Brantford, Brant and Six Nations.
Over the coming months, Focus on Seniors will introduce the amazing partners that serve on the Grand River Council on Aging (GRCOA) board of directors.
From the beginning, the Alzheimer Society of Brantford has played an integral role in contributing to the growth of GRCOA. The Alzheimer Society was the sponsoring organization for an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant that enabled the creation of the first strategic plan for an age-friendly community, the master aging plan (MAP) in 2008.
Mary Burnett, CEO for the Alzheimer Society, described those early days. “We felt strongly that the needs of older adults needed a higher profile, and were pleased to support the grassroots group that had formed to develop the MAP. Out of this process, several notable leaders emerged and the Grand River Council on Aging was created.”
As the CEO, Burnett is one busy lady. Her days normally begin with an early morning conversation touching base with a colleague. She generally spends at least two days a week in outlying offices meeting with staff, clients and donors.
She describes her busy work life by explaining that most of her time is spent advocating and engaging in strategic discussions on how the Alzheimer Society can improve services for those living with dementia and their caregivers.
While Brantford is her home office, the catchment area for her chapter of the Alzheimer Society is quite large, as they serve the communities of Brant, Haldimand Norfolk, Hamilton and Halton.
While certain aspects in our world, such as technology, change rapidly, Burnett wishes that our health-care system could change as quickly. The traditional medical model doesn’t always serve her clients well. Speaking regularly with persons living with dementia, she has become familiar with the phrase, “see me, not my disease.”
She said, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if care for those living with dementia could be more like the models in the Netherlands where is much more in-home support and innovative, smaller residential options like dementia care villages.”

Burnett is passionate about her role at work. “What keeps me excited about going to work every day is seeing first-hand the positive impact our services have on those affected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in our communities.” She went on to say, “I also have the honour of working with an incredible team of people who are as passionate about our cause as I am … like many of the care partners we support, they inspire me by going above and beyond every day.”

When the GRCOA first started, Mary Burnett served as its first president of the board. She remained in this role until another leader could be identified to carry on this vital leadership role.
When Lucy Marco stepped up to the plate as the next president, Burnett stepped down. However, her organization continued to support the GRCOA by appointing a staff member to sit on the board of directors in her stead, thus ensuring the voice of dementia was represented and heard.
This vibrant partnership is important to GRCOA, Marco says.
“The Alzheimer Society is the leader in developing programs to meet the needs of a segment of our population. They were listening to the expression of needs long before the World Health Organization started putting emphasis on the aging population,” she said.

“Who better than the Alzheimer Society to provide guidance to the new age-friendly community movement?”
The Alzheimer Society continues to grow to meet the needs of people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Burnett shared some of her concerns for older adults, elders and their families.
“Perhaps my biggest concern for the future is the adequacy of services to support those aging with a chronic illness and their caregivers. We need to come together as communities to support our aging population.”
“We hear about age-friendly and dementia-friendly communities, but are we ready to truly become a community that honours its eldest citizens?”  Burnett muses on this for a bit before adding, “Yes, people need access to quality health and social services, but they also need friends and meaningful activities in their lives.”
The communities of Brantford, Brant and Six Nations are fortunate to have this passionate, caring individual at the head of one of its most important community organizations. And the GRCOA is fortunate to have the Alzheimer Society as one of its core partners.
Hats off to Mary and her team!