Edmonton’s best dementia facility only ‘half’ of what it should be: U.K. expert

Watch above: A world-renowned dementia care consultant says Canada’s long-term care facilities need a major culture change. Su-Ling Goh reports.

EDMONTON — A world-renowned dementia expert says Canada’s long-term care facilities need a major culture change.

Dr. David Sheard has spent 15 years working in dementia care in the U.K. and now travels the world as a consultant. He says Edmonton facilities still have a long way to go.

According to the Alzheimer Society, McConnell Place is one of the best places for dementia care in Edmonton. With just 12 residents in each of its three wings, the facility is small but offers patients a yard and plenty of activities.

Still, Sheard believes that it’s only “halfway there.”

“It’s not…just about buildings, it’s not just about attaching staff to those, and doing lots of audits,” he said.

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“This is about getting staff to connect back to the humans.”

He explains that dementia patients have a tendency to revert back to a certain time in their lives. Since the disconnect between the past and present can sometimes be unsettling for patients, Sheard believes better care “might mean recreating a bit of their past reality.”

READ MORE: Dementia: What are the early warning signs and symptoms?

He offers an example of one dementia patient who once managed a laundry business; however, she didn’t recognize the machines of today. So staff got a little creative to help calm her.

“To her, laundry was a laundry of 50 years ago. So…we put a metal dolly tub out in the garden, an ironing board on the brick wall, a washing line and put water in. And she started the washing.”

It’s part of what Sheard calls a true “person-centred” approach to care.

He says too many facilities around the world rely on locked units, and physical or chemical restraints, to control conduct like aggression, wandering or yelling.

A recent Alberta Health Services pilot project also found success when reducing the use of antipsychotic drugs.

READ MORE: Reducing certain medications makes ‘huge difference’ for some dementia patients

In addition to tailoring treatment to a patient’s emotional needs, Sheard believes another key to success is moving away from  facilities that resemble institutions.

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“We need to get rid of all the institutional features. We need to get rid of uniforms, we need to get rid of staff toilets, we need to get rid of staff standing, watching people eat,” he said.

“We need to get back to the fact that you see the person, not the disease.”

Sheard will speak at a conference for the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta Thursday morning.

With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News