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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InterAGE – A unique project brings students and seniors together at Gateway Lodge Assisted Living

Zach, a young man, plays cards with five seniors.

Zach, a UNBC student, lived in Gateway Lodge as part of the InterAGE Project.

University students are calling a seniors’ care facility “home” as part of an ongoing, experiential project that has set fertile ground for blossoming friendships, teachings, learnings, and research results.

The Intergenerational Activities for Growth and Engagement (InterAGE) Project was born when researchers at the University of Northern BC (UNBC) partnered with Northern Health, and a pilot project began in September 2018 with two UNBC students spending their Fall semester (four months) living in Gateway Lodge long-term care and assisted living facility in Prince George. As part of their full course load of university credits, the students enrolled in the experiential learning course, during which they were required to spend a minimum of 10 hours a week engaging in activities with the senior residents. The pilot project was a terrific success and has led to the continuation of the InterAGE Project.

“The students bring such a new and interesting perspective to our programming,” says Therapeutic Recreational Therapist Lynn Aucoin, describing the short- and long-term benefits of the project. “They’ve made great suggestions to augment what we offer, including adding more evening and weekend programming. I think the initiative is phenomenal!”

One of the first projects of its kind in Canada, InterAGE is compiling evidence-based results on intergenerational living. The research/experiential learning project is led by UNBC’s Dr. Shannon Freeman, Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing, and Prof. Dawn Hemingway, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work.

“The neat thing for me has been to observe the sharing between the students and the residents,” says Dawn. “The sharing of lifelong learning, with an open dialogue, in a class environment in a residential home. It’s been remarkable to see the exchange of ideas and experiences between the students and residents.”

Hemingway is referring to the weekly open class that is held in a bright and airy room at Gateway Lodge. Seated at tables in comfy chairs – sometimes with the fireplace on during Prince George’s chillier months – InterAGE students, any Gateway residents interested in participating, and guest speakers (including academics, professionals, and community members) gather to learn and discuss a wide variety of topics, such as:

  • Autonomy and risk.
  • Digital media and technology use to support well-being in later life.
  • Myths and stereotypes of aging.
  • Cognitive health in later life.
  • Grief, loss, and transitions.

The classes are held in a seminar style, supporting a safe environment for individual sharing and discourse.

“Going to the classes became one of the highlights of my week,” says Agnes, a Gateway resident who regularly attends the classes. “I’ve also had an opportunity to meet more of the other residents and also hang out with young people – it’s been great!”

Another Gateway resident, John, credits morning chats over coffee, and activities and games with helping him socialize more.

“[The lectures are] a really great learning experience. I learned that socializing and doing activities gets me out of my chair – it’s a really good thing.”

This project requires the trust and support of facility staff and leadership to succeed, and their impressions after the completion of an academic year are very positive.

Sandra Barnes, Manager of Residential Programs, oversees seniors’ programs and services in Prince George as a whole, including at Gateway Lodge. She sees the impact InterAGE is having at the service and individual levels as well. For Sandra, the students’ and seniors’ interactions are profound; as are the connections with the researchers and guest lecturers.

“We have new programs, new expertise informing our services – these relationships are so valuable,” says Sandra. “[This program] provides something unique. It’s different and innovative. We’re seeing new relationships develop among our residents as people from different aspects of care [and areas of the facility] gather to participate.”

Zachary Fleck recently took part in the Winter semester portion of InterAGE. Zachary is a third-year International Studies student who applied to participate in the program for the unique academic perspective. While he moved in anticipating the experiential learning, some of what he learned went well beyond scholarly pursuits.

“I’ve developed really meaningful relationships while I’ve been here,” says Zachary. “I’ve been able to create brand-new perspectives.”

The positive practical results of InterAGE’s pilot year may impact future planning for Prince George’s aging population as the program continues into the 2019-2020 academic year. Additionally, the project’s research outcomes will be shared among leaders in the long-term care field.

“When we started the project, it was the great unknown… would it work? Could it work?” muses Dr. Freeman. “With collaborative relationships, we’re able, as educators, to offer real experiential learning in this environment, and I value that so much. This is just the beginning. We’re continuing to learn and grow and recruit more students for the next semester!”

The success of the project, which brought young strangers into a seniors’ home, with all the potential worries and unknowns, can be summed up by one of the facility’s vibrant elders, ninety-two-year-old Rose.

“I noticed that Zach talked to everyone. And I’m thrilled to have lived this long, to see something so wonderful come to be. I said to Zach,” Rose says as she opens her hands in a welcoming gesture, “‘Come in, come in… you’re part of our family now.’”

UNBC students interested in participating in InterAGE or learning more about the project can contact either:

Andrea Palmer

About Andrea Palmer

Andrea Palmer is the Communications Lead for Capital Projects at Northern Health. She’s happy in all four seasons in Northern BC and loves getting out into the wild with her family. Andrea is a Southern transplant who came to the North “for just one year” to attend UNBC… more than twenty years ago. Suffice it to say the academic and professional opportunities, wild spaces, and open-hearted people are what make the North home for Andrea. Sunny winter skies and fresh powder for days don’t hurt either.

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Checking in with a wildfire evacuee one year later: “How they treated me in Prince George, I just couldn’t believe it”

Three men, all evacuees from the Williams Lake Seniors' Village, pictured at the UNBC residences during the 2017 wildfires.

L – R: Keith McCreight, Gordon Woods, and Sture Kallman, all evacuees from the Williams Lake Seniors’ Village, pictured at the UNBC residences during the 2017 wildfires. Woods passed away earlier this year.

Sture Kallman has nothing but positive memories of his time as an evacuee during 2017’s wildfires. Kallman, 88, is a resident of Williams Lake Seniors Village, and was evacuated to Prince George last year along with other residents in mid-July 2017.

“I just about cried when I left Prince George because of how well you treated us,” said the former high-wire artist. “I met so many nice people, and you made us feel so good right from the very first minute we arrived there.”

Kallman was impressed with how the city coped with the influx of evacuees.

“I just couldn’t believe it, taking on 10,000 people. I couldn’t believe it could be done so wonderfully,” he said. “The mayors of Prince George and Williams Lake — they had a big load on their shoulders to carry, to be able to make decisions from day to day.”

He was impressed by the healthcare services he received as well, recalling how a doctor took the time to check on him at 11pm one night.

“I know the doctors were overworked with that tremendous increase of people, and especially when elderly people come, they need more attention,” he says. “When I left Prince George, I wished I could write a thank you letter to the people who looked after all of us and were so wonderful.”

A highlight of his time in Prince George was a trip to the circus with Brenda Schlesinger, a project manager at UNBC, who invited Kallman to attend with her family after learning he had worked as a high-wire performer in his youth.

Schlesinger also took Kallman to Aleza Lake, where he was able to savour “wonderful memories from when I worked there.”

“It was also great to see how the business people responded to the crisis, giving discounts to evacuees,” he added. “I just couldn’t believe how good it could be. I also enjoyed the wonderful entertainments every night.”

Evacuations are not planned for Williams Lake this year, but Kallman says, “If I was evacuated again, I would love to come back to Prince George – they treated us like kings!”

He was happy to return home to Williams Lake Seniors Village after the 2017 fire season was over.

“It was so nice to come home and I was really proud of the people here, how well they looked after everything,” he said. “They did a tremendous job of it, and they made us feel really welcome back, they made us feel really at home.”

After returning home, Kallman had hip surgery in Kamloops and is now walking a little. “Every day, I feel improvement,” he said.

Kallman, who will be 89 on September 25th, attributes his health and longevity to hard physical work and describes moving to Canada from Sweden as “the best thing I ever did.”

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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