Dementia Awareness is an Ongoing mission

BSO, PERT and LIVING in My Today help reshape attitudes

By Kristian Partington

Throughout the month of January, each Schlegel Village has joined with seniors’ organizations and care providers across Canada to mark Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. It’s an opportunity to draw attention to the realities facing those who live with various forms of dementia, as well as their loved ones and caregivers.   

Team member standing next to a sitting resident who is mixing something in  a mixing bowl
Winston Park residents help bake cookies to share with the 
village as part of Alzheimer's Awareness Month.

For Melissa McGuire, who works within the long-term care neighbourhood at Winston Park in Kitchener supporting people who are living with memory loss, it’s important to mark this month of awareness but the fact is, this is a year-long endeavor for Melissa and her teammates. Sure, this month they’ve spent time baking cookies and sharing them around the village, using the friendly gesture as a means of reminder, and they’ve made posters and placed poems along the wall that highlight certain aspects of dementia, but the philosophy that guides Melissa in her role in village life is evident every day.

Melissa, along with teammates Rabina Simovic and Mary Hedrich, are crucial conduits between the village and the local health integration network (LHIN) through Behavioural Supports Ontario (BSO) – a provincial program that helps teams caring for people with dementia anticipate potential behaviours and expressions in collaboration with families, physicians and other caregivers. By getting to know each person as individuals teams can perhaps mitigate potential behavioural escalations before they arise, and react more personally if they do. 

Internally, Schlegel Villages has created a complement to BSO in the shape of Personal Expression Resource Teams, of which Melissa is also a part at Winston Park. She’s also recently taken on duties as a facilitator with the LIVING in My Today education program, which is the cornerstone of the Schlegel Villages dementia-care philosophy.

These programs are all intended to help everyone connected to village life view those living with dementia in a more empathetic manner, helping them to see that though someone’s perceptions and memories may be changing, they are still entirely capable of pursuing growth and joy and connectedness in their daily lives.

Melissa is happy to say this ongoing education seems to be having a positive impact as more team members from across the spectrum of care are connecting with residents in meaningful ways. These don’t have to be earth-shattering impacts, she points out; even the simplest interactions can make a difference.

“You’ll see it more and more where (a team member) will come out and maybe they’re cleaning a table and they’ll stop and talk with residents and answer more questions,” Melissa says. “It’s really nice to see.”

Throughout the month, awareness has been raised and on Jan. 31, Winston Park will be part of the annual Walk for Memories event, spearheaded by the Alzheimer’s Society. The fact is, however, that reshaping the views and attitudes that surround dementia is an ongoing mission that finds success one conversation at a time, and these are the conversations Melissa and her team tries to have every day.