Researcher Sarah Wu is doing something about dementia, and starting in the dining room

Researcher Sarah Wu is doing something about dementia, and starting in the dining room

You may already know that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. While some researchers are diligently looking for effective treatments, others are looking at more social models of care. Many Alzheimer Society Research Program grant recipients are working toward a friendlier future for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

What does relationship-centred care for someone living with Alzheimer’s look like? University of Waterloo doctorate student Sarah Wu is investigating long-term care, and searching for opportunities that may lead to better care for our friends, families and neighbours who are living with a dementia diagnosis.

Wu’s research interests were sparked after she noticed something peculiar about mealtimes in long-term care facilities.

“I thought the room would be filled with laughter, jokes and conversation. During my initial observations as a graduate student, I noticed that mealtimes were silent. All I could hear was the clanking of utensils and efficient staff members doing their work,” explains Wu.

Since that initial observation, Wu’s research continues to home-in on mealtimes as a great opportunity to build relationships among those living and working in long-term care homes. “Mealtimes are an important ritual that we all have in common. It’s not hard to understand how valuable they are to our sense of personhood.”

Wu is now looking at ways to improve mealtimes in Ontario long-term care homes, with a focus on how to enhance the experience for residents. A big part of this has to do with how we think about the notion of “caring” beyond medical intervention, and restructuring staff’s time to better accommodate quality connections between staff and residents.

Wu’s research will challenge the notion of a purely biomedical model of long-term care towards one that emphasizes the importance of meaningful connections and relationships.

“Many people living with dementia will likely end up in long-term care homes,” says Wu. “These places are supposed to be their homes. We need to reconceptualise what that looks like and how that plays out day to day.”

“As a doctorate student, support through the Alzheimer Society Research Program is probably the most important funding in my career. This type of funding helps new researchers, like myself, explore ways to support those people living with dementia and their families and friends, and hopefully those lead to happier outcomes in long-term care settings,” explains Sarah.

The reward of the Alzheimer Society Research Program funding goes beyond simply financial support. At minimum, people living with dementia need to feel welcomed and supported in the communities where they reside.”

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