Dr. Lorraine Venturato shares her thoughts and insights on dementia care in Canada
Dr. Lorraine Venturato is a renowned academic who has built her career working with older populations and researching long-term care for seniors with dementia. Originally from Australia, Dr. Venturato is now an associate professor and the chair in gerontology at the Faculty of Nursing and co-lead of the Dementia and Cognitive Impairment NeuroTeam at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary. Her research focuses on the intersection between the individual needs, goals and experiences of those with dementia, and the goals and capacity of the organizations working to provide support.
Q | How do you define quality of life as it pertains to dementia?
A | What most of us describe as quality of life is when our goals and expectations align with our ability. When we have expectations that our abilities can’t meet, that impacts on our quality of life. In terms of people living with dementia, there are lots of things that impact quality of life; things like age, behavioral and psychological symptoms, and physical and cognitive function all make an impact. But we know that those things are modified by people’s expectations with chronic illness. So someone from the outside might look in and say, “Oh, they must have terrible quality of life,” but those living with it modify and adapt their expectations to match their ability.
Q | How would you describe an ideal model of dementia care?
A | Some of the key tenets of an ideal model is that it needs to be flexible and responsive to individual needs, and it needs to be able to adapt as that person’s condition changes. I think an ideal model is one that facilitates and supports the person to live in a way that they want to live. One of the challenges for us is that we become very protective of people that we perceive as more vulnerable. We want to reduce the risks, but life has elements of risk in it. So it is about balancing the risks so that the person still has meaning in their life.
Q | What are the advantages of an interdisciplinary team approach to dementia care?
A | The advantages are that every discipline has its particular focus and knowledge base that it brings in with it. Having an interdisciplinary approach allows you to tap into all that expertise. But there are challenges. An interdisciplinary team approach is about more than just having six disciplines at the table each doing their own thing. If they continue to work in silos, you don’t get that holistic approach. There’s a potential for fragmented care if each individual player is working as an individual clinician. But a true interdisciplinary practice, where the team actually comes together, does offer that real opportunity for holistic care. Particularly if that coming together includes the family and the person with dementia.
Q | What can Canada learn about dementia care delivery from international programs in countries like Australia and England?
A | There are a few things. Taking a national strategy and a united, planned approach is really important. It allows you to have a focused goal, makes sure that the funding is going into the areas that the country has prioritized, helps to foster networks, and it builds an energy. I certainly saw that in Australia when I was part of a national dementia strategy there. The second thing is, we’ve seen increasing creativity in the way we think about the spectrum of dementia care. People are staying at home longer and being cared for in the community. We’re also starting to see nursing homes looking very different around the world. There are lots of different models that are coming up that are still looking to provide group living and group support for dementia that aren’t quite as institutional-looking as they were in the past. I think that’s really important. [ ]
The Interdisciplinary Approach: Key Players
The interdisciplinary approach to dementia care involves active, collaborative participation from a variety of professionals across several disciplines — all with the aim of ensuring an individual receives well-rounded support. Key team members can include:
- Nurse practitioner
- Registered nurse
- Physical and occupational therapists
- Family members
- Administration/owners of assisted-living facility
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