Your questions answered about Chartwell’s Memory Living Program

For older people living with cognitive impairment and mild-to-moderate dementia, Chartwell offers a unique Memory Living Program. We sat down with Allison Schindler, Chartwell’s Director of Memory Living, to find out what makes the program special—and how it’s helping seniors and their families to enjoy a good day, every day.

What is the Memory Living Program?

This is a unique, comprehensive program that focuses on a full, independent, and socially active lifestyle for folks who are living with early to moderate stages of dementia. Dedicated Memory Living Neighbourhoods are integrated into some Chartwell retirement residences, and we currently have nine in total in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario, with more neighbourhoods in the development stage.

How is the Memory Living Program unique?

The Memory Living Program features a supportive and safe environment, including home-like living spaces and suites, secure outdoor gardens, and family-style dining. Trained and caring staff, including Memory Living Managers, Registered Social Workers, and Dementia Counsellors for families, build strong relationships with residents. What really makes the Memory Living Program unique, however, is the model of care, or the approach we take that underpins all aspects of the program.

Can you talk a little bit about that approach, and what it means for residents and their families?

Many memory care residences use a clinical model of care, which focuses on systems, processes and tasks surrounding the resident—that means it’s often difficult to see the person beyond the disease.

Instead, we truly focus on a person’s ability at this point in their lives, using a community-based approach that has proven to result in happier residents, fewer falls, less aggression, and many other benefits.

To do that, working closely with families, we undertake a specialized assessment to find out about the person, to understand who they are today. Then we leverage that information with the goal that this will be a really special place for them to live that will support their greatest success on their dementia journey. This process allows us to provide a positive and seamless transition into the neighbourhood, and simulate the supportive social aspects they currently enjoy.

Can you give an example of what life is like for residents in the Memory Care Program?

To take meals as an example, our staff sit down and dine with residents at harvest tables. It’s part of the natural, social rhythm of daily life that residents enjoy. We place a huge emphasis on engaging residents and providing the time and space to build relationships. It’s not all just about the task at hand: It’s about slowing down, taking in those spontaneous moments. It’s not a rush to get from the dining room to the bathroom and from the bathroom to bed. Let’s just sit out on the patio; enjoy a singsong walking down the hall, and celebrate that person, and their life right now.

Do staff receive special training?

Definitely. First, our program is unusual in that we employ registered social workers who work closely with residents, staff, and families. Staff undergo specialized training, including participating in experiential simulation training, where they will put on gloves and glasses and beans in their shoes to simulate a dementia experience. We offer this for families too—it’s amazing to hear family members say afterwards, “Now I get why mom looks down all the time, or doesn’t answer me when I’m talking to her.”

How do you support families?

We really focus on families as being part of the circle of care, offering specific support groups for spouses and family members, either on a group or individual basis. Our social workers are a big part of that. We also focus on education, working with families to shift the stereotypes of what dementia is and isn’t, and to dissipate any feelings of guilt, especially about putting mom or dad “in a home.”

Learn more about Chartwell Memory Living Program here.