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Skill building program for people who care for family members with dementia

Mount Sinai Hospital was recently awarded a five-year, $2.84 million grant from the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program to develop a Working CARERS (Coaching, Advocacy, Respite, Education, Relationship, Simulation) Program, the first comprehensive program of its kind in Canada devoted to supporting caregivers in the workplace.

Based on the model and success of  Cyril & Dorothy, Joel & Jill Reitman Centre for Alzheimer’s Support and Training CARERS Program, offered at the hospital, the Working CARERS Program will provide working professionals who care for family members living with dementia at home an opportunity to benefit from the much needed support and skills training offered at the hospital but in their workplace. The first company to introduce the Reitman Centre Working CARERS program is BMO Financial Group in partnership with Ceridian and Lifeworks, and is planned to roll out this fall.

Half of Canada’s informal caregivers are between ages 45-54, balancing jobs with family responsibilities. Family caregivers also have a higher risk for stress-related illnesses, experience burnout and loss of productivity in their jobs and demonstrate a rate of depression that is much higher than in the general population – up to 40 per cent.

“With an aging population comes many demands on family members, many of them who are working,” says Dr. Joel Sadavoy, Director of the Cyril & Dorothy Joel & Jill Reitman Centre for Alzheimer’s Support and Training and Head of the Community and Geriatric Psychiatry Services at Mount Sinai Hospital.  “These individuals are very vulnerable — they’re trying to juggle demands at work and demands at home.”

The Reitman Centre Working CARERS Program will be led by Dr. Sadavoy and Dr. Virginia Wesson at Mount Sinai and will be developed through an innovative partnership between the federal government, Mount Sinai Hospital and private-sector partners.

Delivered to employees and their dependents by trained Employee Assistance professionals, this program will be grounded in therapeutic principles and offer group workshops, hands-on simulation-based caregiver training and individual attention, with a goal to relieve the intense pressure and impact that caring for a loved one with dementia has on their lives. One of the most innovative features of the program’s design is the use of standardized patients — actors trained to simulate real-life situations — so that caregivers, guided by expert clinical coaches, can learn how to deal with common challenging situations that arise.

For Heather, a caregiver to two parents with Alzheimer’s disease, who participated in the 10-week CARERS Program offered at Mount Sinai Hospital, says the program was nothing short of a life saver. She had been caring for her parents for years when a sudden change in her mother’s physical condition coupled with the emergence of her father’s full-blown outbursts made the situation unmanageable. “They honed in on exactly what I needed emotionally at one of my most difficult and vulnerable times. My life has been monumentally changed because of Mount Sinai,” says Heather.

Approximately 750,000 Canadians currently live with cognitive impairments including dementia and this number is expected to nearly double by 2031. “To be able to have this level of expertise in the workplace from Reitman Centre staff, coupled with an employer who is willing to put resources into supporting employees in this way – this program will be revolutionary,” says Heather.

As the only centre of its kind in Canada, the Reitman Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital is breaking new ground on the creation of an evidence-based, effective therapy based skills training method for family caregivers – a model that is poised to be replicated in various settings across Canada. In addition to the workplace, pick up has already happened by the Chinese Community in Scarborough at the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care and the Mount Sinai Wellness Centre.

The program has also expanded into Calgary through a partnership with Chinese Geriatric Community Services of Calgary and has been carried out in unexpected places like Holly Blossom Temple in Toronto. Satellite programs are possible in a number of different kinds of settings, including other hospitals and in places like the Alzheimer’s society or even through family health teams. For more information, or to learn how your workplace or organization can get involved, visit www.mountsinai.on.ca/reitman or call 416-586-4800 ext. 5192.


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