“My relationship with my husband Tony constantly changes as his illness changes. The Dementia Caregiver Resilience Clinic has given me the skills I need to adapt to these changes, which helps me give more to Tony.”
– June Hutton, author, teacher, and grateful care partner for her husband Tony, who lives with young-onset Alzheimer’s
Did you know that one in five Canadians have experience caring for someone with dementia?
My name is Dr. Elisabeth Drance and I have been working as a geriatric psychiatrist with Providence Health Care for over 22 years. I also cared for my amazing parents who both experienced dementia later in life. My lived experience of caregiving, along with my professional work, have helped me to deeply understand the needs of families living with dementia.
Imagine watching the person you love change in front of your eyes in unexpected ways that alter your relationship with them forever. When you are caring for someone with dementia, you are called on to constantly adapt to changes in the person you care for, such as alterations in their memory, day-to-day ability, and personality. You also have the added responsibility of taking over the everyday things they can no longer do. These changes in your relationship are accompanied by grief, even though the person is still alive. It is a demanding chapter of life – one that can easily lead to overwhelm, burnout, depression, anxiety, and physical illness for the caregiver.
Through caring for my parents, I’ve learned, personally, how challenging it can be to care for a loved one with dementia. In my role as a geriatric psychiatrist, I have seen the toll dementia takes on families. I’ve met family members whose loved ones are dealing with challenging behaviours related to their dementia. Despite there being wonderful support services available in the community, some caregivers – who I see as care partners – need more help building their inner resources in the face of the demands of dementia caregiving.
Another BC “first and only”
In 2017, as a “first and only” for BC, Providence Health Care opened the Dementia Caregiver Resilience Clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital to offer clinical support to people who experience complex challenges in their caregiving role.
At the Dementia Caregiver Resilience Clinic, our team provides care to highly stressed care partners, focusing specifically on the skills they need to manage their emotional experiences, and to prevent or work through difficult interactions that can happen when trying to help their loved one. Care partners learn skills that support their own well-being in the context of caring for a loved one with an illness over which they have little control.
As dementia progresses, the person can become easily frustrated and overwhelmed by activities we take for granted ̶ like getting dressed, or making a cup of coffee. The daily demands of life can feel frightening. We focus on supporting care partners to develop the skills they need to understand and meet the needs of their family member with curiosity and compassion. At the same time, care partners learn to direct compassion to themselves for the challenges they encounter.
Empowering care partners in BC
June Hutton, one of the care partners I have the privilege of knowing, supports her husband Tony Wanless full-time, in addition to being an author (Four Umbrellas: A Couple’s Journey into Young-Onset Alzheimer’s), and a teacher. June shared: “As Tony’s illness progressed…I became his full-time caregiver. These new responsibilities were in addition to all of the regular household and personal tasks I managed prior to his illness. Thanks to Dr. Drance and her team, I now care for Tony by leading with curiosity and being more self-compassionate.”
We take a very individualized approach to supporting care partners in our clinic ̶ working to address the significant distress they are experiencing while empowering them to adopt a mindful approach, to take a step back, and see situations more clearly. They also learn about real ways to bring self-care to life. We offer individual counselling and lead innovative group programs that are specific to the needs of dementia caregivers.
Providence is committed to providing access to innovative and compassionate care when and where British Columbians need it. The Dementia Caregiver Resilience Clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital is just another example of this commitment. The clinic enables us to provide better support to those providing care for family members with dementia – both in person at St. Paul’s and virtually.
Our team and all of the care partners we have helped in the past five years are deeply and sincerely grateful for this clinic.
Dr. Elisabeth Drance, MD, FRCP(C) Geripsych.
Clinical Associate Professor, Dept of Psychiatry UBC
Geriatric Psychiatrist, Providence Health Care
Donations to St. Paul’s Foundation will help to ensure caregivers in our communities, like Dr. Drance and June, have the resources to provide the best possible care, when and where it is needed most. Give now.