The Canadian Jeiwsh News

Saturday, October 10, 2015

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Program teaches how to cope when loved ones have dementia

Tags: Health

Living with Dementia is getting ready to start up again this October. This unique program, which was launched in the spring, is in partnership with Holy Blossom Temple and Mount Sinai Hospital’s Reitman Centre.

The program is the first satellite community-based program coming out of the partnership, and is aimed at family members who are caring for loved ones with dementia.

Gerry Richman, who co-leads the program with Esther Zeiler and Sandy Atlin, said that it offers a component for both caregivers and their loved ones.

An adult educator and professional life coach, Richman said she has an interest in helping those in the community who are often overlooked, “and family members and caregivers need a lot more attention. They are trying to cope with [a situation] that is very new to them. We help them develop skills to help cope with the challenge.”

The seeds for the partnership were planted, said Richman, when Dr. Joel Sadavoy, head of geriatric psychiatry at the Reitman Centre for Alzheimer’s support and training, and head of community psychiatry services at Mount Sinai, came to speak to a group at Holy Blossom about the Reitman Centre’s Carers program, which provides practical, skill-based tools and emotional support for family members caring for loved ones with dementia.

A concurrent arts-based program for cognitive and interpersonal stimulation is provided for the family member with dementia.

“We discussed the possibility of a satellite program at Holy Blossom, and after months of meetings and conversations, we recruited volunteer staff who were trained by Mount Sinai,” said Richman.

They launched the 10-week program in the spring, and offered simultaneous sessions with caregivers and their loved ones.

Part of the program for caregivers includes role-playing based on their own challenging situations. “We ask them to journal their situations, and bring them to each session,” said Richman.

After a two-hour session, she said, everyone comes together, and they have a Judaic component to the program. “We have a rabbi or cantor come in and they lead us in music and prayer.”

She said the spring session was “highly successful. Participants bonded, and discovered they were not alone.”

Sadavoy said that caregivers have never been identified as a population in need. “Dementia care will fail unless the caregiver can adequately manage their loved one at home. Almost everyone with dementia has disturbances, which disrupt relationships and impair communication. Caregivers are highly vulnerable to breakdown under the burden of care.”

For information on the program, email

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