The Meyn family: Carmen, Gisela, Andy, and Andrea.

The Meyn family (left to right): Carmen, Gisela, Andy, and Andrea.

As BC’s elderly population increases dramatically, so does the need to ensure access to high-quality holistic health care for our aging parents and grandparents.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is a leader in geriatric medicine. Over the last decade, VCH has established specialized programs and services across the continuum of care for seniors.

The 21-bed Dementia Care Unit was established in 2017 to ensure Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) is well equipped to meet the needs and complexities of patients and families grappling with dementia. It is staffed by an interdisciplinary team of specialist physicians as well as specially trained nurses, social workers, therapists, pharmacists, dieticians and volunteers.

“Caring for patients with dementia is unique,” says Angela, a licensed practical nurse who works on the Dementia Care Unit. “New environments and new people can often cause confusion in patients with dementia and they can become agitated or aggressive. I find it’s best to remain calm and provide them with enough time to adjust to their new surroundings.”

Together, the staff collaborate to provide coordinated care for patients with dementia while they are in hospital and if they transition back to the community.

“For seniors, care continuity is especially important to avoid unintended complications and barriers to them resuming life at home.”

Dementia care at VGH — Andy’s journey

For the Meyn family, having access to the Dementia Care Unit at VGH was a huge relief. Andy Meyn, Carmen and Angela’s dad, was beginning to display symptoms of dementia at home. It was becoming difficult for his wife Gisela to care for him on her own.

“I wasn’t sleeping very well because I was always worried about Andy getting up in the middle of the night,” says Gisela. “He would start frying pork chops or boiling eggs at three in the morning. A few times I would wake up to a house full of smoke because he had left the stove on.”

Then one night Andy sat down for dinner but couldn’t eat. “He was very confused. He couldn’t eat, he couldn’t stand and he couldn’t tell us what was wrong. It happened very fast,” says Gisela. “My daughter and her friend came over to help but the three of us couldn’t get him up. We had no choice but to call an ambulance and bring him to VGH.”

Andy had pneumonia which kept him in the Dementia Care Unit for two months. He and his family benefited from access to specially trained staff who cared for his cognitive wellness while treating his medical issues.

“For my dad, some days are better than others, but we do not know where we would be if it weren’t for the team at VGH,” says daughter, Carmen. “It’s such a relief to see the staff take care of my dad’s physical struggles as well as his mental struggles.”

“They even helped us plan our next steps for when Dad was discharged from the hospital. We are so lucky to have access to this level of care.”

Recreation as a pathway to recovery

A critical factor in the recovery of patients on the Dementia Care Unit is decreasing their isolation and increasing social stimulation. Rehabilitation Assistant Koren helps encourage social stimulation by hosting a variety of daily and weekly recreational activities for patients. But there is a need for more funding and resources.

“We want to expand and develop our recreational activities on the unit because it will enable us to use different approaches to engage patients to support their cognitive wellbeing. We hope to increase the variety of one-on-one and group activities we offer to include music therapy, memory games, tea parties and exercise classes,” says Koren.

Part of this expansion includes the development of a purpose-built space, so patients can engage in activities that helps improve their mobility, communication and ability to complete daily tasks. Having the space and resources available will help us explore what works best for each patient and will provide a better transition for the patient moving into their next care setting.

For the month of June 2018, donate to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation through the Canada Helps Giving Challenge. Each dollar is a chance for us to win $10,000 for geriatric health. 

Please make a donation today to help support specialized care for senior patients with dementia and other cognitive or mental health issues.