Jennifer Harder has a strong passion for working with Alzheimer's patients. 

She first came to Portage la Prairie a few years ago and is currently North Central regional coordinator for the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba. Her office is in the Herman Prior Activity Centre building. She's had somewhat of a broad range of occupations but has come back to a field related to her initial studies.

"I've had a kind of interesting work background," says Harder. "My degree is actually in gerontology and I worked in a care home in my hometown of Sudbury. It was a really wonderful experience. But at the time, I really had a keen interest in aviation. So, long story short, I was actually an aircraft mechanic. I worked for Air Canada as an aircraft maintenance engineer."

It was after that that she came to Manitoba for flying opportunities.

"I finished all of my pilot's licenses, and became a flight instructor," continues Harder. "Just various things kind of led me away from flying, but I decided to come back into this field of gerontology. I worked as a recreation worker at the Lions Prairie Manor for a number of years and I really, really enjoyed that experience. I've always really enjoyed working with people that are living with dementia."

Harder says this has always been a passion for her. When an opening was made at the Alzheimer Society, and she decided to apply.

"Working with the caregivers, family members, and close friends of people living with dementia allowed me to give them some resources to make the journey a little easier," adds Harder. "Unlike a lot of people that work for the Society, I don't have any relatives that had dementia. I remember my first job where I worked in long-term care. I admittedly was a little intimidated to work with the people that are living with dementia."

She notes she just didn't really know what to expect, adding she wasn't aware of what she might see and how that would affect her.

"I actually got comfortable with it very quickly and then ended up developing a real passion for working with people with dementia," says Harder. "It was just something that came very naturally to me. Then my work at the Lions Prairie Manor was much the same. I loved working in the Parkside Care area where they have people that are living with dementia. I really, really loved working over on Parkside. It was a great experience and that's kind of what brought me here." 

Harder says it's extremely fulfilling to be able to help those who consult her and provide them with answers to greatly assist those with dementia.

"I love working here for the Alzheimer Society, and my thing is just helping people," notes Harder. "I've always loved helping people, and I know that through the people I've worked with, having a loved one, or even for an individual receiving a diagnosis of dementia, it can be a very frightening and uncertain time that's very confusing. There are so many unknowns. And so, when people come in, they should come in sooner rather than later. We can provide lots of information and supports just to help make the journey a little bit easier."

She says someone recently approached her with a seriously difficult situation.

"It took a lot of work on my part, which I was happy to do, and we had a very long talk," continues Harder. "I provided some insights, suggestions, and some resources, as well, to help this person deal with the situation that they were facing. And I received an e-mail not long ago, actually, where they said that the things that I had provided were very, very helpful. Things had really improved. They were much, much better. That just made my day. I was so happy about that and I was just really, really glad that I was able to help them."

Harder adds the local doctors are wonderful, very knowledgeable and resourceful, but also quite busy.

"I think pretty much everybody here in town knows that," says Harder. "We're not medical professionals at all, but we do have a lot of resources and, like myself, we've got experience working with people with dementia. There may be some situations and more practical situations, I guess, that doctors may not all be very familiar with; whether it's things to do with home care, some behaviours, recreation ideas, and all kinds of things like that."

She says she is available for assistance with that kind of information. Harder explains this helps free people up from dealing with appointments and having to wait to receive attention. 

"I like to think that what we do here actually makes their jobs a little bit easier," says Harder. "So, that's why we want them to know about the First Link program."

Harder adds that the diagnosis of dementia, whether for yourself or for a loved one, brings a very difficult time. 

"It's very confusing and overwhelming," notes Harder. "If anyone's feeling a little lost with the situation, if you feel like you would just like some extra information, and you want to just vent, we provide individual supportive counselling. Just give us a call or talk to your doctor about it, and they can refer you here. You can just make that call yourself. I just urge people to do it sooner rather than later and, even for myself, if there's something that I don't know, I work with a very diverse team of people with lots of different experiences and knowledge. So, if there's something that I don't know, I can easily find out, and we all work very well together for things like that." 

The IG Wealth Management Walk for Alzheimer's is taking place this Saturday.