Different System, Same Challenges: Long-Term Care Perspective From Canada
Kristin Helps, our Director of Client Operations, and I had the opportunity to speak about delivering Empathetic Care for Seniors Through Technology at the annual BC Caregiver’s Association Conference in Whistler, BC. The BCCPA is the representative body for long-term care, skilled nursing, homecare and retirement facilities in the province of British Columbia in Canada. These types of facilities are mostly privately run, by both for-profit, and charity organizations, as opposed to acute care which is run by provincial and regional authorities. While this was a BC organization and conference, delegates came from across the country, and ranged from individual home care works, to facility owners, to university professors and researchers.
For the most part we heard similar challenges to those encountered in the health system in the US:
- Communication between care settings
- The struggle to deliver patient-centered care
- Decreasing reimbursement for homecare
- Enabling staff to operate at the top of their license
At the same time, people expressed a desire to age in place, and the health system wanted to be able to support this. While 80% of Canadians cited wanting to die at home, only 40% actually do.
One of the big differences we noted at this conference was that speakers and participants were calling on the Federal government to step in and fix many of the problems in a way that we don’t often see in the US. Another difference was that participants were looking globally for solutions to challenges, particularly in dementia care.
Looking Globally for Dementia Care
This was our first time at this conference and veterans told us that the previous year was quite focused on analytics, while this year the focus was on dementia care. While not primarily our area of expertise at Wellpepper, we heard about a number of innovative initiatives to improve care, including a novel approach by the government of Japan. Japan decided to characterize dementia as a social problem rather than a medical problem and trained bank tellers and grocery store clerks to recognize the signs of dementia. It was thought that these people were most likely to see problems, for example if someone was unable to understand how to pay bills or buy groceries. Considering that many with early onset dementia are quite successful at hiding changes from their loved ones, this idea is quite interesting. As well it puts the responsibility for care back into society rather than relying on medical facilities that often distance the rest of us from the challenges of aging.
The Butterfly Household Model of Care, which was initiated in the UK, but has been implemented in Alberta with some success, is another novel idea. People with dementia often don’t know what day it is or what they had for lunch, but they do have vivid internal experiences, often remembering happier times of their lives. Butterfly Households are designed to stimulate people with dementia with bright colors, and also to stimulate memories with areas designed to invoke feelings of the past, for example an ice cream shop or an area with old photographs. The idea in a Butterfly home is to meet patients where they are, and caregivers report much joy in delivering care and significantly fewer of the violent behaviors often associated with dementia.
While not a designated Butterfly Home, you can see some of these techniques in action at Aegis Living in Capitol Hill, Seattle. Here are a couple of pictures from when I visited last fall. In an outdoor area they have a car and a garden shed designed to stimulate conversation and fond memories, and an old-gym styled basketball court, where you can shoot hoops sitting down.