Family Matters: Developing Relationships Through Family Connections

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Linda DeSmet, Family Support Mentor, Provision Living West County

It was over a year ago when the leadership team of Provision Living, as they pondered the building of their new assisted living/memory care community, which would one day be home to 60 Elders, asked themselves, “What do we need to do to make this the best home for Elders living with dementia that we can possibly create?” While many elements of design and function came to mind, this team came to realize that the key rested in creating a culture grounded in relationships and connections, one that supports the family as much as it supports the Elders. Much work has been done by the community team to create a model of care that will support this, but I want to share a part of the answer to those early ponderings that specifically addresses supporting the family, a program that we call Family Connect.

I am proud to say that growing the program began when I joined the team 6 months before the community was scheduled to open. My background is a master’s in gerontology and 18 years of experience working at the Alzheimer’s Association providing counseling for families living with dementia. I was tasked with developing ways to build relationships and connections, creating a program to take us from a broad vision to a reality that would be an integral part of our community.

We know that most families have been on their journey of caring for someone living with dementia for many years before they are ready to consider a move into a long term care community so this is where connections need to start. Finding these individuals was our first task. We developed a brochure, sent out mailers and posted on our Facebook Page, and even set up a kiosk in a local mall. Finding a way to “Stop the guesswork regarding memory care” was what we offered. Within the first 4 months, we had 15 families reach out to us and Family Connect was off and running.

Family Connect offers the following

  • A free confidential consultation to assess the family’s needs, connecting families with local services and resources including the Alzheimer’s Association.
  • Education about our philosophy of care, which is grounded in the Eden Alternative.
  • A family assessment to determine areas for personal growth, identifying how our team can best support them.
  • Education and strategies to help the family develop the care plan that best fits both the Elder’s and the family’s needs, whether staying at home or moving to a community.
  • Frequent follow up and help with the action steps developed in the consultation as well as ongoing emotional support.

Having formed a relationship with the family through the program, we are prepared to continue the conversation and grow that relationship when the time comes for the Elder to move into a long term care community. Families are invited to participate in a “Transitions” class to help with the emotional challenges of moving a loved one and to help define their new role as part of our care partner team. Family members are encouraged to learn about themselves through support groups and learning circles, exploring how to become better advocates for their loved one.

In my role as the Family Support Mentor, I also work with our care partner staff, helping them to understand and empathize with the many feelings family members experience through these transitions, allowing us as a team to help families cope and actively engage in our community.

By helping the family to become fully engaged, relationships are formed that support person-centered care for the Elder from day one. The relationships that started with Family Connect are transitioned to the community team. Through family members, the staff team can learn not only the Elder’s unique story, but the story of the family. Move-in day becomes a natural step in the process of supporting the Elder and everyone has a role — the Elder, family and the community’s care partners.

After move-in, family members are encouraged to be a part of the everyday life of the Elder and the community. To the extent that family members begin to perceive staff as extended family, we believe they will be more trusting and willing to join staff in creating expectations. Family members are invited to participate in household councils and learning circles, provide input for quality improvement, attend support groups and education programs, participate in planning activities and special events, and use their skills/talents/interests. Family members are also encouraged to share any frustrations that they experience and to offer ideas to alleviate them.

Family Connect is all about developing collaborative relationships between the Elders, family members and staff, and the outcome benefits everyone with the end result being a better life for each Elder. By starting with connections and developing relationships, we are creating a culture where Elders, as our mission states, are “loved, inspired, and thrive.”