Healthy Living in the North

Learning to care for an aging population with dementia

Two female staff members play cards.

Left to right: Elizabeth Johnson, Activity Worker and Brenda Miller, Clinical Nurse Educator.

As the population ages, dementia with older adults is becoming more common. At Northern Health, staff are taking a proactive approach by taking education to learn more about caring for those with moderate to severe cognitive impairments.

Gentle Persuasive Approaches (GPA) teaches care teams how to use a person-centred, respectful, compassionate, and gentle persuasive approach to respond to the behaviours associated with dementia. GPA equips staff with real-life strategies, helping them remain safe and confident in how they respond to different situations.

Trainers across the region have noticed an overwhelmingly positive reaction from staff.

“The initial reaction from staff is that they love it,” says Erin Murdoch, Clinical Nurse Educator for Peace Villa in Fort St John. “It’s opened their eyes to recognize how important person-centered dementia care is, and to recognize why behaviors associated with dementia happen. The training has made staff more compassionate towards the residents and their families.”

Three staff members play cards with a Gateway Lodge resident.

Left to right: Brenda Miller, Clinical Nurse Educator, Myrtle, Gateway Resident, Keya Russell, Social Worker, and Elizabeth Johnson, Activity Worker enjoying a game of cards.

“The biggest change we’ve noticed as a result of GPA is staff attitude,” says Jennifer Miller, RAI Clinical Lead and a GPA trainer based in Burns Lake. “They’re more understanding and have empathy for people with dementia. Staff think about why the challenging behaviour is happening and come up with innovative solutions to manage the behaviour. The solutions are more dignified and respectful. Before, if someone had a challenging behaviour problem, sedation or restraints would be used to manage the behaviour. Now, staff are coming up with person-centred solutions to manage behaviour. It’s all about us modifying our approach. Every class I’ve taught has commented that the training is very helpful, it helps them understand dementia better, and that they didn’t know there were so many types of dementia. Overall it has brought a new awareness.”

GPA is only part of Northern Health’s strategy for caring for older adults.

“Our long term care homes are actively participating in DementiAbility Methods across the entire region,” says Brenda. “DementiAbility Methods is a practical, evidence-based dementia care program. The program teaches care staff how to support the changing memory and thinking skills a person with dementia presents. It also teaches how to create home-like environments that best engage residents in a variety of ways to participate in activities and responsibilities that match their different needs, interests, strengths, and abilities. DementiAblitiy Methods provides assessment and care planning tools for nursing staff when problem solving difficult situations often associated with dementia care.”

Both GPA and DementiAblity Methods work together like hand in glove to improve the environment, culture and, care approaches of staff so that a resident’s day is the best it can be.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

Share

“DementiAbility” approach helps make Terraceview Lodge feel like home

Activity bins for people with dementia at the Terraceview Lodge in Terrace.

Some activities for people with dementia at the Terraceview Lodge in Terrace. As a part of the DementiAbility initiative, these activities are designed to focus on maximizing abilities, instead of focusing on disabilities.

How do you define “home”? One definition was suggested by Northern Health Occupational Therapist Cheryl Block: “It’s the place where you make a genuine contribution, where you’re a part of what’s going on. That’s what feels like home.”

Cheryl, who works in Terraceview Lodge, is helping implement the DementiAbility initiative, which she says has been positively received by residents and their families.

DementiAbility, which is based on the Montessori educational philosophy, is an approach to caring for people with dementia that focuses on maximizing abilities instead of focusing on disabilities.

“We really work to prepare the environment so people can be successful,” says Cheryl. An example is using signage on walls to tell residents how to find the dining room or the activity room. “This can really decrease anxiety and help people feel, ‘Hey, I can be independent, I know where I’m going’,” says Cheryl.

A senior sorting silverware at Terraceview Lodge.

Sorting silverware is an example of an activity available at Terraceview Lodge that gives residents the chance to carry out day-to-day activities to help care for their home. Other examples include arranging flowers, folding socks, reading books, and trying on jewelry.

Another aspect of the DementiAbility approach is giving residents the chance to carry out day-to-day activities to help care for their home, Terraceview Lodge.

“We already have some residents who love to fold the aprons we use at mealtimes, and others who tend our plants,” says Cheryl.  “You can ask them, ‘I have this load of laundry that needs folding, would you be willing to help me?’ – and someone who isn’t interested in a more formal workout can still get some of the same range of motion and strength benefits — and also with a sense of purpose.”

Cheryl has challenged other departments at Terraceview to come up with activities they could involve residents in on a regular basis. “It’s been really neat, the response we’ve got from the residents — the smiles that we get — it’s that sense of purpose and that sense of belonging,” she says.

Another type of activity that has been a success at Terraceview Lodge is reading groups, where residents take turns reading a large-print book aimed at their age group page by page.

“I have to say, this is something that gives me goosebumps,” says Cheryl. “We’ve seen residents who are generally nonverbal and don’t interact with others come to these reading groups, read everything clearly and concisely and then participate in discussion group. It’s really neat to see how allowing residents to use the abilities that they have, can brighten their day and the day of anyone who interacts with them.”

Cheryl notes that it’s been a team effort to make DementiAbility a success at Terraceview Lodge. “The team has come together to make this a success,” she says, “all the way from Quality Improvement at the regional level supporting us; Brad, the manager here, has been extremely supportive and enthusiastic; and all the departments, from Maintenance to Dietary, Housekeeping, and Nursing. Everyone is really wanting to be part of something that’s good for the residents — it’s ultimately all about the residents and what’s best for them.”

With the help of Northern Health’s Quality Improvement department, Block is working on spreading the DementiAbility approach throughout Terraceview Lodge. “It’s exciting to see where this will go,” she says.

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

Share