Vancouver Island to get its first publicly funded dementia village

Campus planned for Comox encourages independent activity, freedom to move

Vancouver Island’s first publicly funded dementia village — and just the second in BC — is coming to Comox.

The Providence Residential & Community Care (PRCC) Services Society has unveiled a vision for a dementia village at the former St. Joseph’s Hospital.

The concept follows a Dutch model for seniors care, based on the dementia village in De Hogeweyk, Netherlands. The village will support a group of people faced with moderate to severe dementia. The idea, through involvement in everyday things, is to improve a person’s quality of life.

“It’s normal life,” said Jo-Ann Tait, Providence corporate director, seniors care and palliative services. “It has small households of people living together, helping prepare meals, based on their capacity and capability. It has access and freedom to get outside fairly easily, and it brings the community into the care campus.”

PRCC is an entity of Providence Health Care, which takes ownership of St. Joseph’s on April 1. Providence has an agreement to work with Island Health on a campus of care redevelopment plan. The initial focus will be vulnerable seniors, particularly those challenged by dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Dementia is an overall term for a set of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. Symptoms may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. A person with dementia may also experience changes in mood or behaviour. The number of Canadians living with dementia is expected to nearly double in the next 15 years.

“Often we think, because a person has dementia, that’s it. And we now need to do everything, and that isn’t the case. There’s a lot of ability still left,” Tait said. “Someone who may not be able to cook their entire dinner may still have that distant memory of peeling a potato. And another person can help prepare the meal with help of staff.”

Under the dementia village concept, staff members and volunteers will be focused on the emotional connection with each resident.

“Even if a person loses the ability to speak, the focus of the staff is how to connect with them,” Tait said. “That’s the change. It’s the shift in going from a task-focused, hospital-based structure to one that you and I would be interested in living in if we couldn’t live at home any longer.”

The village model contains a secure outer perimeter whereby residents can leave their homes. The front door gives access to the outdoors.

“The model’s based on giving people the freedom of movement,” Tait said.

Providence will initiate a community consultation process following the April 1 transfer of ownership. The dementia village is one component of the master site plans on the entire 17 acres at St. Joseph’s. At this point, the company is not sure where the village will be constructed. PRCC hopes to house about 150 residents — about the same number as De Hogeweyk.

“For me, it’s about being able to get to know people and the risk that they would want to take, and being able to help them live the life they want to live,” Tait said.

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