Julie Turenne-Maynard said a new eight-week program is helping people develop a better understanding on how to accompany older adults in their journey. Photo courtesy Julie Turenne-Maynard

Course explores holistic needs of those in care

By 
  • February 14, 2021

Personally and professionally, Julie Turenne-Maynard sees daily the loneliness and isolation amongst an aging population living at home or in long-term care facilities across Canada. 

“I’ve got a mother-in-law who is in a long-term care facility and for many months couldn’t really see anybody,” said Turenne-Maynard, executive director of the Catholic Health Association of Manitoba (CHAM). “You hear about a lot of the residents that are really suffering from broken heart syndrome because they just long for the ability to touch and to hold and to have conversations with more than just essential caregivers.”

With measures in place to limit physical contact to mitigate the spread of the virus, many caregivers find themselves even less equipped to provide the elderly with the emotional support they need.

An eight-week program called Join the Journey: Body, Mind & Spirit is helping people develop a deeper understanding of how to accompany older adults in every aspect of their journey. Whether living at home or in long-term care, Turenne-Maynard says the program is providing the tools for family members, staff at seniors’ care facilities, spiritual care volunteers, church leaders and others to meet these holistic needs.

The course covers lessons such as understanding the aging journey, learning how to communicate well, the power of storytelling and the reality of dementia and how to deal with grief, death and dying.

Filled with messages that are universally relevant, participants say, it’s not only the elderly that are benefitting from the program.

“One (of our sessions) is on rules, boundaries and self-care for caregivers which applies to people in many situations,” said Turenne-Maynard. “Participants are finding the course just as helpful for them as to the people that they’re going to be taking care of.”

The positive response, she says, has been overwhelming.

“One woman said that this course was like God handed it to her on a silver platter so that she could listen, love and serve people much more deeply and wisely.”

Neil Tagarao, spiritual care practitioner at West Park Manor Personal Care Home in Winnipeg, completed the course in the fall and says the content has given him a greater understanding of his clients’ needs and armed him with stories and tools to better connect with them spiritually. 

“Residents have been desperately losing meaning and hope,” said Tagarao. “After one (group discussion) where I shared a story from the course, one of the residents came up to me and said it was really helpful for him because cognitively he was okay, but his body was really going downhill. He was so thankful to be able to transcend from focusing on his ability to do things, to focusing on experiencing God and experiencing meaning and purpose in the spiritual aspects of life.”

The program was developed by Altura Learning in Australia and is open to people of all faiths.

The first cycle took place in September 2020 with 18 participants in two-and-a-half-hour sessions combining video and discussion. It launched again in January with close to 40 people registered. Participants also include those looking for ways to better support their parents and grandparents and aging Catholic nuns who find themselves caring for other sisters in their residence.

While the fall session began in person and had to switch to online part way through due to tightened pandemic restrictions, this time around all sessions are virtual.

Turenne-Maynard has spoken with other Catholic health-care bodies and anticipates more regions will begin to implement the program in the coming months.

While it is an interfaith program, Turenne-Maynard — also executive director of the Interfaith Health Care Association of Manitoba — says most groups share the same vision, mission and values which has allowed the program to be executed seamlessly while being fully inclusive.

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