Thinking Differently about Dementia

Improving care using DementiAbility Methods.

This article was written by a guest contributor, and the views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author.

Thinking differently is often easier said than done. In this first-hand account, team members from The Dementia Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County describe how, through training and teamwork, they were able to improve their approaches to dementia care using DementiAbility Methods.

Image courtesy of The Dementia Society.

The Dementia Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County’s dedicated team of professionals provides a wide range of services, including compassionate support, tailored coaching and practical education for all who are affected by dementia.

Serving our community in Ontario, we aim to foster a dementia-inclusive community, so no one faces dementia alone.

We are committed to providing quality service and exceptional outcomes by staying abreast of new and innovative research, education and best practices.

Finding inspiration

During our pursuit of finding ways to improve dementia care in 2020, we discovered DementiAbility, an organization whose goal is to show the abilities of each person living with dementia through providing person-centred education, resources, tips, tools and new approaches to dementia care.

When a few staff members attended a DementiAbility Workshop, they were so inspired they recommended training all our Dementia Care Coaches to include the newly learned strategies in our policies and practices.

After the workshop, our staff members generated many new ideas and were enthused to think differently about dementia and develop new support strategies. We created goals to provide a DementiAbility Caregiver Program called “Thinking Differently About Dementia” and to become a DementiAbility Certified organization.

Applying a new way of thinking

We have now trained our full team and incorporated new policies, practices and protocols. Three of our staff are Certified DementiAbility Educators, and we are “DementiAbility Certified” as an organization. We are proud to say our first DementiAbility workshop for care partners is scheduled for Spring 2022, and our clients are benefiting from our new ways of thinking and doing.

Image courtesy of DementiAbility.

“We have pivoted from what a person can’t do, to what they can do, with a vision to improve each person’s quality of life,” said Linda Armstrong, a Dementia Care Coach. “We have found that the DementiAbility WOW model, along with other easy-to-use strategies and techniques, have enriched our toolbox.”

Our Director of Client Experiences, Dean Henderson, also notes, “These are the tools that now sit in the top tray of our toolbox, making them easily accessible for problem solving. We have embraced the essence of DementiAbility and are ‘Thinking Differently About Dementia’.”

Perhaps the greatest contribution to our change in practice is each team member has learned to be a detective — always examining the situation to create successful outcomes for everyone. The team explores each client’s needs, interests, skills and abilities before making care recommendations.

Daniel Dixon. Photo courtesy of The Dementia Society.

Client testimonial

One such team member, Dementia Care Coach Misia McCallum, implements DementiAbility Methods in daily practice, calling them “eye-opening” and “amazing”.

Her client, Daniel Dixon, agreed to share how things were going for him since McCallum applied the methods in her work, saying:

Misia has helped me develop an agenda, a list of activities that I should do on a daily basis and has provided other information that can be used often.  

The binder that Misia helped me create contains information and instructions to help me with my daily activities and occasional activities. It also contains information that is used on an occasional basis.

In pre-dementia, I did not need such a thing. I was able to keep track of appointments for more than a year. I never had to look up a telephone number. After using a number once or twice I just knew them. Without a schedule and list of activities, I was falling behind and missing lots and lots of things, especially appointments and important meetings. 

Now when I use it, rather than try to rely on my memory, which is almost all gone, I am much better at managing myself. The book is a work in progress. It helps a lot.

I am involved in lots of different activities as a result of my involvement with the Dementia Society: I tried the art. I did not like it. I was terrible and I am very slow. It did not work for me. I then tried making cards. They were fun. I am still slow, but I often go to two sessions and that is great. I have used and given lots away. As well, in the course, the instructor teaches how to make different sizes of boxes.

Talking to the instructor, we were able to come up with the idea of a book. One of the things that I do is make chocolate truffles. The instructor, Brenda, sort of talked me into making a lot of truffles for a different charity that she is involved with. I did this. Then we were talking and the idea of combining making truffles and making boxes to gift them came up.

We are currently working on a draft of this book that we hope to publish in the spring. It is great for me. It has made me cook more, read more and combine different thoughts. I am still not able to write and do too much that way, but the activities have helped me to make myself happier.

One of the things that has been affected a lot is my practice of my religion. I love practicing my religion. At one point, I had forgotten a lot of the things that are done quite regularly at church. It has made my life much better since Misia found some of the texts that I mentioned to her. She copied them for me. It has made me feel a lot better. I now can practice much easier because I do not have to worry about getting lost or forgetting things.

The Dementia Society and the work of Misia, and others there, has helped me try and live as normal a life as I can. I am different from most people in that I live by myself and have to cope by myself. The people, especially Misia, Zoë and Martin, have basically saved me.

I thank them all.

– Daniel Dixon

Continuing success

Just as she did in Dixon’s case, McCallum emphasizes the importance of trying new things, and to keep doing so until finding what works. For her, understanding what interests a person and matching tasks to abilities has shown success. She plans to share these ideas when teaching the DementiAbility Caregiving Workshop.

As evident, DementiAbility is a perfect fit for the Dementia Society. Each day, we renew our goal of planning for the success of each person living with dementia, with the wholehearted intent of creating better days.

In the words of Gail Elliot, the founder of DementiAbility, “Let’s focus on changing the face of dementia, from one of loss to one where each person living with dementia can be the best he/she can be.”


Learn more about the programs and services offered by The Dementia Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County.


Read more about how DementiAbility can help improve dementia care in the Dementia Connections Marketplace.