Promoting wellness goal of new academy for people with dementia

A new program created for people with mild to moderate dementia and their families, developed by York University and the University Health Network (UHN) and officially opening next week, is taking a different approach to promoting well-being.

The Dotsa Bitove Wellness Academy program is designed to help people with dementia live well despite the disease. The focus is on fostering relationships, personal growth and expression, and enabling participants, along with their family members and care partners, to get involved in art, music, dance, drama and movement-based activities. To this end, practising artists from various disciplines will collaborate with participants on projects.

The program, initially funded by the Bitove family, will celebrate its opening Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 5:30pm at 1929 Bayview Ave., Toronto (just south of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre at the CNIB).

DotsaBitoveCreating works of art with participants is one of the main activities at the new Dotsa Bitove Wellness Academy

It’s a different model than what is typically seen across Canada and is founded on the notion of an academy as a centre of learning, where participants can engage in the activities they find most meaningful, without a rigid schedule. The academy is committed to a philosophy of participant-centred and relational care, where the participants are not considered patients.

“We’ve learned so much about what people actually experience with dementia,” says York nursing Professor Gail Mitchell, director and research chair of the York-UHN Nursing Academy at the Toronto General Hospital, created through the York University and University Health Network GailMitchellpartnership.

Gail Mitchell

“What they’ve taught us is that even though they have this illness, they continue to live life, they learn new things and they want to stay engaged with people. A lot of their suffering is because of how other people treat them. There is so much fear and stigma about dementia, and people assume they can’t talk to people with dementia and so they withdraw.”

There is also an emphasis at the academy on intergenerational education, where health and fine arts students from York will have opportunities to engage and work with participants. Both full- and half-day programming is available.

“Through our scholarship and research, we’re trying to create different understandings of what it’s like to live with dementia. The quality of relationships is most important. If you’re in a place in your life where people turn away from you, it’s very difficult,” says Mitchell. “We believe that if people really understood that the person is still there, they still want to engage and they’re still learning, then maybe we can let go of some of our fear and find ways to connect with them in different ways. We really think society needs and is ready for a different model.”

DotsaBitove2Above: Participants at the Dotsa Bitove Wellness Academy can also enjoy movement-based activities

In addition to providing services for persons with dementia, their families and caregivers, the academy will also conduct research on best practices in care for persons with Alzheimer’s and other memory-related disorders.

“We hope to create a stronger movement in Canada to develop different ways to think about and connect with people with dementia,” says Mitchell. “The idea is to have people with dementia engaged and living life to its fullest.”

Mitchell, who is cross-appointed to theatre studies, is also working with collaborators on a play that will portray what it’s like to live with dementia and how the negative stigma that exists today can be hurtful and destructive. Several dress rehearsals will take place at the academy.

For more information, visit the Dotsa Bitove Wellness Academy website or call 416-486-8731.