A vision for dementia care in Alberta

Participants immerse themselves in learning dementia care practices during Carewest’s Supportive Pathways ‘Train The Trainer’ program. Photography by Don Molyneaux

Participants immerse themselves in learning dementia care practices during Carewest’s Supportive Pathways ‘Train The Trainer’ program. Photography by Don Molyneaux

Creating supportive, homelike care environments where residents are acknowledged as unique individuals is the goal of the Supportive Pathways program.

A nationally accredited training program for dementia care, Supportive Pathways was developed in Calgary by Carewest in the late 1990s when the organization sought to challenge traditional notions of long-term care. An increase in the number of people with dementia living in Carewest facilities was a catalyst for the initiative.

Jeanine Kimura, director of operations, quality and performance at Carewest, says Supportive Pathways is more than just a training program; it’s the organization’s vision for dementia care.

“The intent is to recognize residents as individuals who bring separate histories and interests to our settings,” Kimura says. “We wanted that to be supported by routines that made sense to the individual, regardless of their level of cognitive ability, in environments that felt less institutional and more like home, with care provided by people who treat each of those individuals with respect, reinforcing their self-esteem and happiness.” 

The program’s goals are threefold:

1  |  Developing staff with special skills and knowledge.

2  |  Providing individualized, whole-person care in a supportive environment.

3  |  Encouraging family involvement in care. 

Although the training component began as an internal Carewest training program, Supportive Pathways is the AHS standard for dementia training and has been recognized by Accreditation Canada as a Leading Practice.

Carewest offers two-day training workshops four times a year for staff from other organizations in a “train-the-trainer” approach—and now a module for physicians has been developed as well. 

The program emphasizes specially designed environments, such as walking routes instead of dead-end hallways and private rooms that individuals can personalize and call home. Family members are encouraged to be involved as much as they like in the care of loved ones.

Kimura says the program also underlines key traits such as empathy, being non-judgmental, common sense, creativity, commitment and a sense of humour. 

“To create the optimal environment for someone living with dementia, and to treat people as individuals, it takes a special combination of these factors—and when you think about it, they are skills that all of us should have,” Kimura says. “They’re just really important when you are caring for people who may be interpreting their world a bit differently from the way we do.”

Over the years, the program has evolved to incorporate new research and ideas, such as reinforcing current efforts to reduce the use of antipsychotic medications. It has also broadened its focus, recognizing that people with dementia will be present in all areas of the health care system. 

Kimura notes that the newly released Alberta Dementia Strategy and Action Plan reinforces some of the key principles of the Supportive Pathways program, including the emphasis on specially trained staff working with individuals affected by dementia and their families.

She says the Supportive Pathways program will continue to evolve as society moves toward environments that are accessible to all people, regardless of cognitive or physical limitations. [ ]

For more information, go to carewest.ca.