Eden Gardens residents hold hands in a neighbourhood (Submitted photo)

Compassion and enthusiasm are at the centre of Eden Gardens’ approach to dementia care

By 2031, an estimated 937,000 Canadians will be living with dementia

At Eden Gardens – a dementia care facility in Nanaimo – the person comes before the diagnosis.

Eden Gardens, formerly known as the Nanaimo Traveller’s Lodge, offers a compassionate approach for seniors with dementia. 130 residents live at Eden Gardens, and around 160 people come to their day program on a monthly basis. Eden Gardens’ residents come from Qualicum Beach to the Cowichan Valley.

Erin Beaudoin, Chief Motivator and CEO of Eden Gardens said their philosophy is to fight the three plagues of humankind: helplessness, boredom, and loneliness.

“When you’ve boredom, helplessness, and loneliness, you fight it with spontaneity, meaningful give-and-receive care, and companionship,” Beaudoin said.

As of today, there are over half a million Canadians living with dementia. According to statistics from the Alzheimer Society of Canada, there will be 937,000 Canadians living with dementia by 2031. Costs for dementia care are expected to rise to $16.6 billion by 2031 as well. The Alzheimer Society is calling for the immediate development of a national dimentia care strategy. Approaches to dementia care shown at Eden Gardens could play a role in that strategy.

Residents of Eden Gardens do not live in ‘wards’, they live in neighbourhoods and communities. 11 residents live in a neighbourhood, and two neighbourhoods can connect through a door to make a community.

The neighbourhoods are slowly filling up with vintage furniture donated to Eden Gardens to make neighbourhoods feel more like home. Each neighbourhood is different – some even have pets like cats or birds.

“We try to collect antique furniture and things that will prompt reminiscence,” Beaudoin said. “You get the story telling, and when they talk about themselves or the story, they’re more at peace than if they’re searching for something to do or trying to leave. Then we can understand that person better so we can do their care better.”

Ground floor neighbourhoods have access to outdoor gardens. Upper level communities have air conditioned solariums filled with plants. Residents with the ability to help with gardening are encouraged to do so. The care goes beyond gardening. If there’s something a resident wants, Beaudoin and her staff make every effort to make sure they get it.

“It’s about trying to be person centred, and trying to treat more than just the human body. We want to treat the soul, see who that person is, and what they can bring to our environment,” Beaudoin said.

Continuity of staff is important in dementia care, so Eden Gardens keeps regular staff in neighbourhoods. Each resident has an individual care plan so staff know the likes and dislikes of the people they are providing care to.

Each neighbourhood has wooden birds on a wire that represent the residents in that neighbourhood. When residents pass away, their birds are placed on an arbutus tree in the neighbourhood. Rather than moving bodies out of sight and impersonally, they are moved through the front door – the same way they came in.

“It’s really emotional, and an honourable way to leave our home,” Beaudoin said. “These are people we loved.”

Eden Gardens fundraises to provide programs like music therapy, art therapy, and horticultural therapy for their residents. The programs cost roughly $110,000 per year – Beaudoin said she could easily triple the programs and still not meet demand.

Everything at Eden Gardens is built around giving the residents choice, and making them feel like they are at home. At the core of it all is love, and compassion, rather than providing care that focuses simply on a diagnosis.

“It’s time to stop being this institution, and start doing things in a different way,” Beaudoin said.

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