Transforming Support for those Living the Dementia Journey

Wentworth Heights GM describes the impact of signature program

By Kristian Partington

As the general manager at Hamilton’s Village of Wentworth Heights, Vanda Koukounakis supports all team members in all aspects of village life. In doing so, she oversees all education programs for team members and the signature programs that help enhance the lives of the residents who choose to call the village home. She doesn’t lead the programs, but she’s privy to all of the successes and challenges that arise in their implementation. 

The impact of one program in particular sticks out in Vanda’s mind, and she recently shared her story with attendees at this year’s Schlegel Villages Operational Planning retreat. LIVING the Dementia Journey (formerly called LIVING in My Today) is a education program offering an in-depth exploration of life with dementia that aims to help team members, residents and families better understand the myriad of complexities behind the disease.

Vanda admits she was unsure of the impact the program was having but she’s recently realized that this program is one of the things that sets her team apart from others in the long-term care and retirement sector. She’s recently been meeting with families whose loved ones will be moving into Emma’s Neighbourhood in the expanded village this November. This is the neighbourhood serving those living with memory loss and other resulting symptoms of dementia. Some of these people are living in other retirement settings and the meetings Vanda has been involved in have been, at times, extensive and detailed.

“There are so many challenges that they’re having at these other memory care neighbourhoods,” Vanda says, and naturally the people want to know how their loved ones will be treated at Wentworth Heights.

As one woman walked Vanda through the challenges her loved one faces, it became clear that the current approach to care is at the root of the many difficult personal expressions that arise. “It was the team’s lack of knowledge,” Vanda says. “There was a disrespect about what this lady was living with and what her journey was like. They basically put a lock on a door and call it a memory care neighbourhood.”

It was in that moment that Vanda reflected on all the knowledge LIVING the Dementia Journey has to offer. It helps people empathize with those who live with dementia. It offers new understanding and encourages team members to support each person by being present in each moment and it urges them to consider the underlying causes of each personal expression, whether positive or challenging. In doing so, each team member connects with each resident in a deeper way, and the support they offer is truly centred on the needs of each person.

When she began working at Wentworth Heights seven years ago, “we were never able to articulate how we felt and how we supported people living with dementia and it was a struggle,” Vanda says. “Now, I was proud to say to this lady sitting there that she would receive different support from our team and I was confident in saying that.

“Five years ago I wouldn’t have said that and it was a great feeling to be able to reassure her that we were going to treat her mother like a human being and that she can still live well when she moves in with us.”

LIVING the Dementia Journey, Vanda says, and the ‘permission’ it offers each team member to deepen their relationships with residents, is a big part of this transformation.