Helen Hunter


New Dementia Care Course Mirrors Instructor's Mantra

With gentle persuasive approaches, Helen Hunter can teach safe, loving care.

After Helen Hunter’s father was diagnosed with early onset vascular dementia at 53, in 1997, it became her mission to improve the quality of care for people living with dementia. “There were gaps in the quality and understanding of dementia care, especially with early onset dementia,” says Helen, who was 26 when her father was diagnosed, and was grieving the loss of her mother a few months before. 

As she began to care for her father, it became her passion to find out as much as she could to help him and people like him.

Helen, a licensed practical nurse, then moved with her family from Toronto to Flin Flon, Manitoba for her husband’s job. There, she started a charity called the Mitkas-Hunter Hope Foundation (Mitkas is her maiden name — for her father). She also worked with the region’s Alzheimer Society, and through these initiatives, supported those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and their families. She fundraised for a variety of needs like a wheelchair, planned yearly houseboat tours for individuals and their families, and organized intergenerational programs, including woodworking for high school students and the seniors and visits with her daughter’s grade 2 class.

Helen’s family moved to Calgary in 2006 again for her husband’s job, and in 2010, when she was working at Carewest, she applied for a new job at the company that involved educating health care aides. She got the role. “That's how I got into education. I never planned for it, it just kind of happened.”

By 2013, Helen was teaching as an instructor at Bow Valley College, and throughout her five years here, has mostly taught health care aide courses. However, earlier this year, she and three other instructors were selected to train to become a Gentle Persuasive Approaches (GPA) Certified Coaches in a two-day program with Advanced Gerontological Education. “I was honoured that I was selected,” says Helen. 

The goal of GPA is to respond respectfully and with confidence and skill to behaviours associated with dementia. Participants learn to do this using a person-centred, compassionate, and gentle persuasive approach. Helen defines the concept as focusing on the individual and not labelling them. For example, if the client is yelling, rather than labelling them as “a yeller,” it’s identifying that behaviour, recognizing the client has a need they’re expressing through yelling, and addressing that need. “The person becomes peaceful and assured that they're being validated,” says Helen. 

This is the third edition of the curriculum. The update focuses on optimizing the presentation and delivery of the information, which includes using videos, a manual with stills from the video, and hands-on teaching techniques. Helen says these elements are a very effective way of teaching a course, especially this course.

Throughout the 13 years Helen cared for her father, before he passed away in 2010, her mantra has been safe, loving care. When she took the Gentle Persuasive Approaches coach course, she says finally, it matched her mantra.

Helen will be teaching Gentle Persuasive Approaches Basics this Saturday, December 8, at Bow Valley College. Please visit our website to register. 

Posted on December 3, 2018

Story by Julie-Anne Cleyn, photos by Chris Bolin

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