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This new program in Canada is helping LGBTI seniors with dementia

This new program in Canada is helping LGBTI seniors with dementia

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Toronto Pride in 2015. | Photo: Flickr

A new program is in the works for Canadian LGBTI seniors living in the province of Prince Edward Island (P.E.I).

The mission of the program is to help LGBTI seniors, especially those with dementia, transition to assisted living care such as nursing homes.

The project

The Alzheimer Society of Prince Edward Island received almost $25,000 [£14,250.97; €16,149.70] from the federal government’s New Horizons Seniors Program in January for this project. The title of the project is Diversity 101. The program will be used, at first, in three assisted living centers on Prince Edward Island.

The project, which will take about a year to develop, is being put together by Corrine Hendricken-Eldershaw, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of P.E.I; Alana DesRoch, director of care at Andrews of Summerside, a retirement home; and Grace Wedlake, a social justice student at the University of Prince Edward Island.

‘Safety and inclusiveness, that’s the whole goal at the end of the day,’ said Hendricken-Eldershaw.

The trio plans to create two educational presentations on LGBTI seniors—one for healthcare providers and one for care facility residents—in order to help them understand more about the LGBTI community. They will also be suggesting policy changes for assisted living centers in order to make them safer and more inclusive for LGBTI residents and their families.

Why it’s needed

This program is needed due to the concerns of many LGBTI elders about entering assisted living. Many worry about being judged or having to explain their gender identity. This is especially true for those with dementia, who are concerned about outing themselves or others as the disease progresses.

‘People do go back in [the closet], that’s exactly what happens,’ Hendricken-Eldershaw said. ‘There are some other additional fears that happen when you add dementia to that journey.’

‘Fears that they’ll have to go back in the closet or hide their identity — I recognized this is not something that we talked about really,’ said Wedlake, who worked with the Alzheimer’s Society for the past two summers. ‘So I think it’s important that we do so and create an inclusive and supportive environment for these identities.’

While DesRoche didn’t have any experiences with LGBTI patients at Andrews of Summerside, she does recall one dementia patient—a man who insisted on wearing women’s clothing.

‘The staff really did not know how to handle that. It caused a lot of upset for the resident, upset for the staff,’ DesRoche said.

Ultimately, the staff decided to let the man dress how he wished. ‘It was a lot of education for them, and I think that these issues are going to come up and we need to know how to deal with them,’ she said.

‘I don’t think this is rocket science, or complicated,’ Hendricken-Eldershaw states. She explains that some simple solutions exist, such as asking the person’s preferred pronoun on admissions forms.

‘The more we can be educated and understand, the more we can provide the care the residents need and deserve,’ Desroche said. ‘We don’t do anything to make them comfortable or feel like they can speak openly or freely—so I’d like to do better.’