Ladysmith grad speaking out on dementia

Laura Booi has been speaking out about dementia care and advocating for older adults for many years.

  • Dec. 22, 2014 8:00 a.m.

Laura Booi has been speaking out about dementia care and advocating for older adults for many years.

And lately, the Ladysmith Secondary School graduate is getting the opportunity to share her message on a bigger stage.

The 27-year-old is currently doing research on dementia as a PhD candidate in the Department of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

This year, she was appointed the Canadian Youth Representative in Dementia and has had the opportunity to attend the G7’s Global Action Against Dementia Events, as well as the satellite Youth Leaders in Dementia Events. She also has the opportunity to represent all of the Young Leaders in Dementia at the World Health Organization in Geneva at the First Ministerial Conference on Global Action Against Dementia in March.

There are many things that have led Booi down this path.

When she was growing up, Booi’s mother was a care aide in a long-term care facility, so Booi spent time there. She was also “hugely” influenced by her grandfather, and she lived with him for a while.

“It was really, really eye-opening living with an 80-something-year-old as a 20-something-year-old, so I just saw how society treated him much differently than I was treated,” she said.

A restorative justice program had a big impact on Booi’s life.

“When I was 14, I kept on getting in trouble doing stupid teenager things, so I kept on getting arrested and I was finally put in a restorative justice program,” she said. “I had to do a bunch of community hours, and so they put me in different long-term care facilities. It just sparked something where I became obsessed with older adults, long-term care, dementia and issues like that.”

Booi’s family is involved in care as well, as her father is a care aide at the Nanaimo Regional Hospital, and her sister is a registered nurse.

After graduating from Ladysmith Secondary School, Booi went to Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts with Distinction as a psychology major with a focus on older adults with dementia. She did a Masters of Arts in Health Psychology at the University of British Columbia, and she is currently in the second year of her PhD studies at SFU.

Throughout her academic career, Booi has earned a number of awards and scholarships for her work, and this spring, she won a $100,000 Technology Evaluation in the Elderly fellowship for the next two years to continue her PhD research looking at older adults with dementia and how to make life better for them in long-term care.

Booi has been a dementia advocate since she was 20. She started blogging about dementia when she was 23 or 24, she served five years on the board of the BC Psychogeriatric Association, and she volunteers at the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

It’s this work that led to Booi being chosen to represent B.C. youth at a Canadian Young Leaders in Dementia Event in Ottawa in September.

“David Cameron, the prime minister of the U.K., sounded the alarm for dementia,” she said. “He said the U.K. is going to spearhead the dementia movement for all the G7. So they have these dementia summits; the first one was in London last year. The second one was in Ottawa in September. I attended the Young Leaders Event, and based on my performance at that event, I was selected to attend the Global Event in Ottawa.”

Booi says the World Dementia Council is trying to find a cure for dementia by 2025. She doesn’t think this will happen because there are so many different types of dementia, and she also thinks a cure won’t be found if nothing changes when it comes to research and the way the search for a cure is approached.

“They have the same established people at the table at the World Dementia Council table talking about the same remedies,” she said. “For the last 20 years, we have done almost nothing for dementia research. And this is what they said at this Dementia Event — those are not my words; these are the experts speaking.”

At the Global Event in Ottawa, Booi stood up and asked what they are going to do to bring new, young, innovative minds to the table to talk about different solutions for dementia.

“Because right now, we have the same people talking about the same solutions,” she said. “Let’s get new, young people; let’s get women. We know that 65 per cent of people who get dementia are women. Two-thirds of all caregivers are women. Where are the women represented? Where are the people with dementia represented? Where are the young people represented? This affects everyone, and it’s only one homogeneous portion of the population talking.”

Based on that event, Booi was then chosen to represent Canadian youth in Tokyo at the Japanese event, and she helped facilitate a workshop with Japanese young leaders, where they talked about new, innovative ideas and solutions. In February, she will travel to Washington, D.C., for a U.S. Young Leaders in Dementia program and also the third G7 event.

Booi is now working with the executive director of Alzheimer Disease International to create a Global Youth Ambassador in Dementia program to bring together young people who are passionate about dementia to look at helping find solutions.

When she graduates from SFU, Booi says she will be either the first or the second person to graduate with a PhD in Gerontology in Western Canada.

“There are not enough people in this field,” she said. “That’s what keeps me going. There has to be more people who care about this.”

Booi says it’s an honour to be considered a young leader in dementia, and she feels like with this recognition, she has more weight to throw around and can get more done.

“The amount of work I have to do in this area is insane,” she said. “The general knowledge about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease worries me so much, it really concerns me. The way we’re dealing with it as well. The elder abuse that happens for people with dementia is heartbreaking. How we treat and how we warehouse our older population should shame us into all doing something different.”

Booi has two years left at SFU, and when she’s finished, she wants to continue to be a loud voice for dementia care.

“I think because I’m young and I have so much energy and I can’t sit down, I think I should continue getting my PhD and then continue being a dementia evangelist, going around and speaking to people about dementia, educating people, increasing awareness — because that’s half the battle, education and awareness,” she said. “A quarter of the people who have a dementia diagnosis don’t tell anybody they have a dementia diagnosis because of the stigma. The whole thing is so negative, but I’m pretty hyper and I’m pretty happy. If I can make this message easier to swallow and still get people educated about it, it will be a life well lived.”