In Toronto, 37 seniors’ day programs accept people with dementia, while eight are specifically for those with the disease, according to the Toronto Dementia Network website, dementiatoronto.org.
“It’s not just bingo and beading,” says Bianca Stern, executive director of culture, arts and innovation at Baycrest Health Sciences, which opened Canada’s first adult day program in 1959. “Over time we’ve gained a greater understanding of the kinds of approaches that help people with dementia thrive rather than survive.”
The arts is one such approach. Baycrest has a glee club, theatre and photography groups for the cognitively impaired and a mini gallery that displays their visual-arts work. “The arts give us a playground where there’s no right or wrong,” says Stern. “It draws on long-term memories that continue to be meaningful.”
Over the last decade, Baycrest and other centres have seen more clients with complex physical needs and increased dementia, people who in the past would have been in long-term care.
Providence Healthcare in Scarbourgh offers day, evening and overnight clubs – up to five consecutive nights may be an option – to give caregivers a break, and nurses and other health professionals visit the day program to monitor some clients’ health needs.
The day program, called “The Club,” takes place in a homey setting with a kitchen, baby grand piano – and Monty, a labradoodle. “He works miracles for us,” says Elizabeth Davison, adult day program manager. “He helps lead clients to the bathroom. He gets them outside for walks.”
At Downsview Services for Seniors, a popular activity is horticulture. In the winter, clients care for house plants, and then grow vegetables in an outdoor plot in the summer. Clients at different stages of dementia all benefit. “Everyone has some connection to gardening,” says Dana Borrie, manager of Downsview’s adult day programs, which run seven days a week and provide overnight stays.
In the east end, WoodGreen Community Services’ adult day program has a multisensory room that uses lights, aromatherapy and sounds to soothe clients or to simulate an experience. For example, a seaside visit was created with blue lights, the sounds of crashing waves and singing birds for clients to work on a beach-themed art project, explains program manager Diane Wong.
Health professionals help monitor the clients at the WoodGreen program, which now has extended hours and operates six days a week.
Most dementia day programs draw from particular neighbourhoods. Some provide transportation. Most charge a daily fee, usually $15 to $40, although subsidies may be available.