United Champions New Approach to Cognitive Decline

“Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” – Albert Camus, philosopher.

United is championing a new approach to dementia care that promotes building relationships within the community. Every older adult community, it seems, promotes a person-centred approach, which leaves the impression that the resident comes first. But Daniella Greenwood, strategy and innovation manager for Arcare in Australia and an expert on dementia care, has noted the way person-centred care is implemented today has changed from its initial good intentions in the 1940s. Today, this approach doesn’t always take a resident’s particular wants and needs into consideration, but is often seen from a medical point of view. In other words, the resident is identified more from their medical needs than as a person.

“At United, our approach truly is centred on the person,” said Nicole Kendall, director of health and wellness. “Our approach is social rather than medical. When a resident joins our community, we  concentrate on getting to know them as a person rather than focusing on their medical needs. It’s the resident’s life history, personality, likes and dislikes, wants and needs that are paramount.”

Paintings created by residents in the United Minds program
Paintings created by residents in the United Minds program

United is now taking a step beyond person-centred care to what is being called relationship-centred care, which is proving to be particularly effective for residents with dementia and other memory issues.

“Relationships and connections with others is extremely important to a resident’s quality of life and overall well-being,” said Amy McDonough, United Minds manager. “Rather than living on a secure memory unit, our inclusive community approach provides our residents with opportunities to engage in authentic relationships with other residents and staff as well as take part in programs that are meaningful to them as an individual.”

A forest using various paper shapes, created by a resident in the United Minds program
A forest using various paper shapes, created by a resident in the United Minds program

Amy points to a resident who lived alone in her home before moving to United Active Living. Throughout her life she had always enjoyed visiting museums and art galleries, but had stopped going as her memory declined. “Her family was concerned about her quality of life, and the losses she has experienced since living with dementia, so we supported her to join other residents on an outing to the Glenbow Museum. She had a wonderful time at the museum and also enjoys many of our other in-house events. The programs at United provide opportunities you wouldn’t find on a secured unit and is one of the reasons I believe inclusion is so important.

Amy notes that simply going to an art gallery may, on the surface, appear to be passive and not as engaging as, say, working in the art studio painting a picture. “Each person is different, and we may not understand what memories may be triggered by simply looking at a painting. We can’t measure the worth of something for someone else. A trip to a gallery can be very engaging, so these kinds of outings can have tremendous value to someone with memory loss. As well, if the opera or Calgary Philharmonic were important to them, they will get a substantial benefit from once again attending those concerts, or, thanks to our partnerships, bring concerts into our communities. Understanding the person gives us the insight to know what will appeal to them.”

The move towards a relationship approach is a relatively new social movement in dementia care, and United is one of the few older adult communities at the forefront of its implementation. You can read more about the research behind this approach here.

“By building relationships, we promote a sense of belonging, purpose and significance in the resident’s life. They are engaged and active in the community. Family members tell us they can see the improvement in their mom or dad’s quality of life when they are included,” said Nicole.

Concerts and other outings are part of the varied programming at United
Concerts and other outings are part of the varied programming at United

The son of one of the residents in the United Minds program is very pleased with his mother’s reaction to living at United. “My mother moved to Garrison Green from another community where the programs just weren’t challenging enough for her,” said her son. “The programs were so generic that she was bored to tears. The programs at United are designed for her capability, plus she has always been a helpful, caring person. The staff knows that about her so they ask her to help where it’s appropriate. She now feels like she is a valued member of the community. That approach, plus all of the varied programs they have makes all the difference in the world. She is definitely much happier there than she was before.”

“I worked in long-term care before coming to United,” said Amy. “I knew that the right approach was to connect with residents on a deeper level – something United was already doing. We create opportunities to thrive and have meaningful experiences. A relationship-centred approach allows staff to create meaningful connections with residents. These relationships not only benefit the resident, but also the staff, families and entire community.”

To learn more about United’s unique approach to memory care, watch our video below.

Photos and video by Sherana Productions and United Active Living

Do you know a friend or family member who could benefit from living in a United community? Send them a link to our website or blog, or arrange a tour. We are happy to help! 

To learn more about life at United’s Garrison Green, watch this short video.