by Karen Morgan, Executive Director, SPHHF –
Recently my brother was diagnosed with dementia. Since discussion of dementia has become ubiquitous, my first response was “we have to deal with something as we age.” However, as I researched the condition and caregivers’ needs, I became both worried for my brother and concerned for our community. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada:
“The number of Canadians with dementia is rising sharply. As of 2016, there are an estimated 564,000 Canadians living with dementia – plus about 25,000 new cases diagnosed every year. By 2031, that number is expected to rise to 937,000, an increase of 66%.”
As the Saanich Peninsula Hospital and Healthcare Foundation worked with Long-Term Care staff, discussions revealed the high percentage of residents affected by some kind of dementia. In 2015 the BC Seniors Advocate reported that 64% of residents in long-term care facilities had received an official diagnosis of dementia, although it’s estimated to be higher at SPH.
Whatever the exact number, our patients have become older, more frail and significantly more affected by dementia, since the hospital was built (1974-78). Physical adaptations to the unit have been, and continue to be, necessary in order to deal with these changes in the resident population.
Another concern expressed by the Seniors Advocate in 2015 was the potential overuse of drugs. According to her “Placement, Drugs and Therapy” report: “The B.C. RAI data shows that only four per cent of seniors in residential care have a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder, yet 34 per cent of this client group are prescribed antipsychotic medications. This is a clear indicator that these medications are being used to treat other, non-psychotic conditions, and are probably a tool to treat behaviour issues related to cognitive or mood disorders rather than actual psychotic disorders.”
Why are these drugs used? In dementia, mood and behaviour swings occur as the brain becomes increasingly worse at processing information. Resulting behaviours can include anger and frustration, depression, anxiety and clinging. However, activities to refocus and redirect can also reduce these behaviour issues and, thanks to the generous donors in our community, are becoming more common (not to mention enjoyed) by residents in the Saanich Peninsula Hospital Long-Term Care Unit.
Here are just a few of the activities:
• Horticulture therapy – activities, sometimes with a group of children from a local daycare, are conducted in the Graham Garden, and a new memory garden, which can help relieve the need of dementia patients to wander, is being completed;
• Art therapy – thanks to a unique partnership with the McTavish Academy of Art, residents travel to MAOA (in the new bus that was purchased with contributions to the Foundation and Auxiliary);
• Love and Comfort therapy – the tools used in this therapy include dolls, robotic cats and dogs and most recently, two PARO, AI-equipped seals to reduce anxiety and feelings of social isolation.
Other activities are available (i.e., music therapy and yoga), but more work remains. The memory garden needs to be completed, and physical adaptations to the dining room and other indoor areas are needed. My motivation used to be “what if this was my parents?” Now it’s “what if this were my brother?” What if it were your loved one?