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.

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The St. John Hospital acute care garden: improving quality of life for people waiting for long-term care

The acute care garden gives seniors waiting for long-term opportunities for engagement, socialization, and mobility.

This spring, the residents and staff at St. John Hospital (Vanderhoof) came together to start a garden for acute care patients who are on long-term care waitlists. Acute patients who are waiting for a long-term care spot can have limited access to activities and recreation. This project gives them opportunities for engagement, socialization, and mobility on the acute floor.

Many of the residents grew up in or around Vanderhoof, and were avid farmers and gardeners throughout their lives. Now, they can tend, water, weed, and enjoy this garden. Doing so reconnects them to their past, sparking old memories, and contributes to their sense of purpose.

This project was started by the Rehabilitation Department at the St. John Hospital, which includes occupational therapist Valerie Padgin, rehabilitation assistant Roxanne, and myself (also an occupational therapist). It’s part of a DementiAbility initiative.

Thanks to the generous donations and support from several family members, the acute care garden is now thriving, growing tomatoes and lettuce! This project wouldn’t be possible without:

  • Maya Sullivan from the Vanderhoof Community Garden for loaning the hospital a wheelchair accessible planter, which got the project started.
  • The Men’s Shed for building two additional planters.
  • The Co-op and Home Hardware in Vanderhoof for donating soil, potting mix, gloves, hand tools, and a watering can.
  • Eileen at Maxine’s Greenhouse for donating dozens of beautiful plants that are flourishing in the garden.
  • Allan Pagdin and Joanne Petrie, who put in several hours of time and labour to make the project a success.

We hope the garden continues to grow and improve the lives of our residents and acute care patients!

Laura Giroux

About Laura Giroux

Laura is an Occupational Therapist at the St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof. Originally from Vancouver Island, Laura has been in the North for nearly four years, and enjoys all of the recreation and outdoor activities that it has to offer. She recently joined the Rehabilitation Department at St. John Hospital and is excited to work on such a creative and compassionate team.

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“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!

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