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Long-term care homes shaping a new world for better days ahead

There is something happening in long-term care homes across the country: a cultural shift in the delivery of care.

“When people come in to a long-term care home, their world shrinks a little bit,” says Kim Schmidt, Leader of Resident Care Services at the Sherbrooke Community Centre, a long-term care home in Saskatoon. “And, so, we as the long-term care facility, become world makers. We try to create a world here that is as diverse and interesting as the world outside of here."

Currently home to 263 residents, the Sherbrooke Community Centre has a reputation for innovative thinking, not only in many of the elements that make up this environment, but also in the adoption of an overarching philosophy that helps residents have, in simple terms, a good day, day after day. 

“People don’t thrive in an institution and so you need to build something different, where people thrive and learn and grow, no matter what their abilities are,” says Schmidt. “It is a shift in thinking.”

The long-term care homes adopting this new philosophy–the patient-centred model–strive to allow each individual resident to direct their care. It is a move away from one-size-fits-all programming. The approach means identifying what brings each individual resident joy, comfort and a sense of peace. It means knowing residents’ personal and preferred routines. It also means having a wealth of engaging and interactive activities on offer.

Think art. Think music. Think horticulture. Think dancing. Think inter-generational socializing. Think spiritual guidance. Think friendships maintained and built. Think leadership opportunities. Think more flexible daily routines. They are not just activities and programs in place for the sake of delivering programming. It is much more than that.

These activities are what Mary Schulz, Director of Information, Support Services and Education at the Alzheimer Society of Canada, call, “the reason for getting up in the morning.”

 “[Historically] these long-term care homes were built to meet the physical needs of frail seniors,” says Schulz. “It took us quite a while to figure out that we do not live on medicine alone...there are spiritual and social needs that people don’t park at the door when they move in to the long-term care home.” 

“The physical is important, but it is not the whole story,” says Schulz. “Sure, make sure I am clean, make sure I am not in pain, take care of my physical needs but do it as a means for getting me into a day that is going to be meaningful.”

It is a model that can greatly benefit residents diagnosed with dementia.

Currently 747,000 Canadians live with dementia. That number is expected to jump to 1.4 million in the next 16 years as Canada ages. It is a number that is about to show face in long-term care homes across the country.

“70 per cent of people who live with dementia will live in a long-term care home...despite the rhetoric of people wanting to live in their own home, wishing it doesn’t make it so,” says Schulz. “The vast majority of people with dementia do need a long-term care home at some point...so how are those last years of life going to be as good as possible? How can we give them the best day possible?”

The Sherbrooke Community Centre answers this call. Its mission is to create a place where people can live full and abundant lives, each day.   

In 2002, they launched a radio station, operated by residents and volunteers, and opened an aviary filled with colourful birds. Two years ago, they opened the doors to the Kaleidoscope Centre for Creativity, a full artist’s studio, complete with an artistic director and the special devices for residents at all levels of physical and cognitive abilities to tap into their creative soul. They also have an on-site child care facility, not just to provide child care – it allows seniors to interact with another generation.

The Centre was a pioneer in Saskatchewan for delivering a music program in the long-term care setting. Their Alive Inside program, an initiative that hands residents with dementia individualized sound systems, can literally get residents moving and singing.

“We had a fellow, with dementia, who grew up with fiddle music,” recalls Schmidt when he was handed the iPod filled with his personalized playlist. “He danced for two hours instead of standing at the door trying to get out.”

“It might not work every time...for some it gives them something to get out of bed for,” Schmidt says. “If you have a good experience, that good feeling, it can have a lingering feeling in the day. It can change how the rest of the day goes...it just changes.”