Canadian Tour, Dementia, Longterm Care

Can independence for people living with dementia be found in a sweater?

Portrait of elderly lady in beige cardigan alone at home.

I dressed myself today.

I bet you did too and while you likely put some thought into what you were going to wear, I doubt you congratulated yourself on doing up your buttons, and I’m fairly certain no one congratulated you on this small, everyday achievement.

So why do we do it to older adults in care?

‘Let me help you put on your sweater.’  

‘I’ll do up those buttons. They’re tricky.’ 

While this may be necessary assistance for people who are physically unable, and may be considered a gesture of good manners in our culture, we routinely help older adults with everyday tasks simply because they are slower both physically and cognitively than other adults.

 The day you stop putting on your own sweater is the day you no longer can.

As I’ve written previously, older adults’ autonomy and self-identify should trump the wider world’s quest for efficiency.

I saw the profound change simple acts of independence had on the residents and staff at The Hogeweyk, an inclusive, village-like community that provides high-quality care for people living with advanced dementia. 

Enabling independence strengthens three key character traits that contribute to the well-being of older adults and those living with dementia:

  1. Self-esteem: Doing things for ourselves feeds our sense of overall worth and value. That doesn’t change with age.
  2. Self-identity: We define ourselves and our place in our community through our actions. Older adults, particularly those living with dementia, deserve to feel they are a part of the adult world, which includes maintaining autonomy over how they present themselves to the world.
  3. Active body, active mind: Physical inactivity reduces overall cognition, so staying active and engaged throughout the day – beginning with getting up and getting dressed – helps older adults stay well and reduces the risk of depression and anxiety.

Empowering independence means accepting a degree of risk, and it is this acceptance of risk that sits at the heart of The Hogeweyk (Dementia Village) model.

As co-founders Jannette Spiering and Eloy van Hal teach us, empowering adults to perform simple everyday activities has a purpose: it enables residents to continue to see themselves as they were before dementia.

Dementia is something they have; it isn’t who they are. 

This shift in thinking about how we design and administer care goes beyond person-centred care planning. It’s a move to normalize and empower aging, and all the experiences that go along with it.

At The Hogeweyk deinstitutionalizing care includes handing back to the residents many tasks that are usually performed by nursing home staff.

This means residents help with laundry because they have been homemakers and did their family’s laundry for years, they continue to shop for food at the local grocery store and contribute to meal planning and preparation family-style, and when they feel a chill in the air they put on their own sweaters.

Simple acts but highly transformative. 

It’s why I am excited to share the stage with Jannette and Eloy during our cross-Canada tour to explain both The Hogeweyk model and the evidence-based Be Advice Paradigm to inform how we can drive innovation and meaningful change in how we provide long-term care to Canadians.

We should be demanding a model of care that centers the individual over the institution, that creates purpose through creating a sense of place, that supports our continuing to life a normal life, and that recognizes change can happen fast when we value people living with dementia for who they are, not what they are contending with.

Join me, Jannette and Eloy at the Humanizing Dementia Care Canadian Tour Register here.


The Tour Agenda

Halifax – Fri Oct 14       

Ottawa – Mon Oct 17    

Toronto – Wed Oct 19

Edmonton – Mon Oct 24  

Vancouver – Fri Oct 27 

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