March 15, 2024

Nursing students to present art-based caregiver intervention project in Toronto

Second-year undergraduate nursing students take project with Alzheimer Society of Calgary to Community Health Nursing conference in April
Alzheimer Society of Calgary Julie Burns Group
Top (L-R): Julie Burns, Lexie Fung, Monica Ochieng, Kaitlyn Watson, Quentin Clowater, Joy Ly. Bottom: Tegan Bey, Miskyat Sanni, Sunju Jo, Ali Cada

UCalgary Nursing second-year students have worked for many years with the Alzheimer Society of Calgary as a placement for their community health course. This year, Fall 2023’s student group project, Caring for the Caregiver, has been accepted for an oral presentation at the Community Health Nursing: Health for All conference in Toronto. 

Working with the Alzheimer Society’s Club 36 Adult Day Program (which offers a supportive environment for people with dementia) in the community of Seton, the students used the nursing process to assess and diagnose caregivers of individuals with dementia. They then worked to create an intervention to encourage respite for those caregivers and increase knowledge of self-care practices, aiming to address misconceptions of dementia, highlight the importance of family nursing and address the needs of those who are indirectly affected by the disease. 

The result? An arts-based intervention which, according to Ali Cada, director of the Adult Day and Creative Program at Club 36, provides a “temporary escape” for caregivers and an opportunity to disconnect from their caregiving role for a time. 

“Art engagement will empower caregivers with valuable, accessible, practical, experiential and creative learning opportunities to enhance their knowledge and skills in promoting their overall well-being and regain meaningful connections with their loved ones through the arts,” Cada says.  

The students’ intervention is the creation of a workshop where caregivers will engage in success-oriented art, such as Zentangle, inkblot painting and mosaics. The caregivers learn the basics of how to engage in these processes and could then choose to implement them in their own lives or with their loved one with dementia. 

The workshop includes health teaching about the importance of prioritizing their mental health and the benefits of self-care practices. Participants received brochures with that information and included health teaching and instructions for the art processes. 

“Success-oriented art provides an outlet for caregivers to unload their stress and express themselves in a positive way, as well as allowing them to participate in a fun and inclusive activity with their loved one with dementia, helping to keep their relationship strong,” says student Quentin Clowater.

"This experience highlighted the importance of caring for the patient's family system as a whole and not focusing solely on the patient"

The students’ initial assessment found that caregivers of people with dementia are at risk of poor coping skills related to lack of knowledge about self-care practices, lack of time for those practices, poor mental health literacy, age, lack of knowledge about resources and under-utilization of those resources, and caregivers having their own health concerns. 

Tegan Bey says really listening to the caregivers’ lived experiences of what their day-to-day looks like confirmed that their intervention could be valuable.  “Allowing them to leave the role of caregiving for even just an hour and let themselves be a husband or a wife again as they create art with their loved one was therapeutic.”  

While the group was initially skeptical about how art could be beneficial for caregivers, they found their perspectives shift by the end of their project. “Our work has underscored the significance of prioritizing caregivers' mental and emotional health to alleviate the strain on the health-care system,” explains Miskyat Sanni, who says the students were surprised about the willingness of the caregivers to engage in the art process.

“By focusing on strengthening the support system around patients, including caregivers, we can enhance overall quality of life and foster therapeutic relationships, ultimately contributing to better patient outcomes.”

The group is excited to be able to share their learnings with a larger audience at the conference, taking place at the end of April and featuring more than 100 presentations for an audience of community health nurses, nursing students, researchers and other health-care professionals.  

“We decided to submit our work to the conference because we were proud of the progress we had made throughout the term and we wanted to follow through with our intervention to make a larger impact,” says Joy Ly. 

“From participating in this conference, we are hoping to gain a better understanding of community health on a national scale and how our intervention can help caregivers across Canada.” 

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