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Visiting someone who has dementia – 7 practical tips

Someone you know has dementia. Maybe it’s a friend or family member. It’s been a while since you’ve seen them. You’re not sure that it’s a good idea for you to visit. Are they really still the person you knew? Wouldn’t it just be awkward?

It’s easy to let this kind of uncertainty keep you away. It’s hardly surprising then that social isolation can be a big problem for people living with dementia.

So, how can you get past your doubts and stick by your friend or relative when they need you most?

With the assistance of Kait Carnegie, Activation Coordinator at our homes in Kitchener, we’ve put together 7 tips to help you prepare for a visit and make it as enjoyable and meaningful as possible.

1. Consider visiting early in the day

Many people with dementia are at their best from mid-morning to early or mid-afternoon. After that, they may be prone to restlessness and confusion, a phenomenon known as sundowning. Not everyone follows the same pattern, though. Check with the person’s family to see when it might be best for you to visit. Keep in mind that most individuals with dementia tend to get tired later in the day, so dropping in for supper may not be the best option.

2. Let go of the urge to correct

The first thing to realize is that you may not be able to have the same kind of conversations with the person as you did in the past. If they forget something you just told them, avoid correcting them or saying things like, “We talked about that just a few minutes ago. Don’t you remember?” Chances are they genuinely don’t.

A better response is to acknowledge what they’ve said and then casually change the topic. Let go of the desire to correct them. It’s not going to help them, and it’s likely only going to frustrate you. The sooner you recognize that expecting them to behave “normally” is an unproductive exercise, the more likely you’ll have a successful visit.

3. Realize that fibbing is okay

In the same vein, there are times when it’s perfectly okay not to tell the truth, particularly if the truth is upsetting. It’s best to say things that comfort rather than distress the person, even if it means telling little white lies.

For instance, if the person you’re visiting asks after someone they love, and you know their loved one died a year ago, reminding them of the death will only make them relive their grief. Instead, come up with a positive, plausible cover story that comforts them.

Kait offers an example. She remembers a resident who kept asking when his deceased wife was “coming home.” She responded by telling him things like “Oh, she went for physio” because that was something his wife used to do. Or “Oh, she went out for lunch with the girls. You know that they like to talk a lot, so we don’t know when she’ll be home.”

He might ask the same question several times a day. Telling him the truth would simply have made him re-experience the loss of his wife anew each time he asked the question.

4. Use objects and activities

If just sitting and talking is difficult, spend time doing an activity together when you visit. Dementia care homes have a variety of activity supplies on hand that you may be able to borrow. Among the many things that Highview keeps on hand are short stories and binders of trivia. Both can be used to encourage conversation and reminiscing. For instance, a piece of trivia or part of a story might prompt you to say something like, “Hey, I remember when you used to bake me an apple pie. That was my favourite thing about Thanksgiving.”

Photo albums are another great conversation starter. Maybe the person you’re visiting has an album with lots of vacation pictures. You can say things like, “Oh, you went on a cruise. Did you ever get seasick? What was your favourite part? Did you like the water? the sand?” Some families will even label photos with people’s names and ages.

Kait says, “Just because the person you’re visiting may not be able to tell you things in chronological order, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the memories that you share with them.”

If you still don’t know what to do during a visit, then drop in and have a meal with the person. Many dementia care homes have pay-as-you-go options for visitors. Sit at their regular table. Socialize with the people they’re socializing with. Use the meal as a topic of conversation.

5. Don’t be afraid to bring children with you

If you have children, you might be hesitant to bring them along for a visit. But according to Kait, they’re actually the easiest topic of conversation. Anyone who’s been a parent, even if they have dementia, will likely remember what it’s like to care for children. Their parenting instincts tend to click in.

They can do activities with the kids like colouring or crafts. They can have tea and cookies with them. Or they can just watch them play. It makes the visit easier. And if it’s their grandkids or other relatives, it brings the family together.

6. Offer practical help to the family caregiver

If you’re visiting someone in their own home, it’s a chance to show support for their primary caregiver, be that their spouse or an adult child. Often, practical offers of support are the most readily received. Offer to pick up some groceries. Or make a meal. It’s one less thing the caregiver will have to do themselves.

You can also offer to give them some time to themselves. As you visit, the caregiver might use the time to have a rest or catch up on laundry. Consider taking the person with dementia out for a country drive, Kait suggests. “Take them to Tim Hortons and get a coffee. If it’s nice out, you could take them out to the park for a walk.” If they rely on their primary caregiver for constant support, bring the caregiver along. At least it will help both of them get out of the house.

7. Don’t give up

If your visit doesn’t go well, don’t be discouraged. Just because the person gets agitated or restless or doesn’t seem happy to see you, don’t take it as a sign that you shouldn’t visit again. It might simply have been a bad day for them. Things may be better the next time you see them. Try again.

Do you have other questions about supporting someone with dementia? Get in touch with us. We’d be happy to help.

Planning for the holidays when your spouse has dementia

The holidays can be overwhelming at the best of times, but when your spouse has dementia, they can be especially stressful.

“The holidays are a time when there tends to be a lot of people around,” says Joy Birch, Chief Operating Officer of Highview Residences. “We have a lot more activities happening, we definitely have a lot more fancy lights, and it just tends to be a time when there are greater expectations on everyone, but particularly on that person who has dementia.”

Joy suggests modifying your plans as a family to make it easier for the person with dementia, as well as yourself, even if it means changing up some time-honoured traditions.

Holiday dinner

Big family gatherings may now be too much for your spouse to handle. Consider scaling things down. Instead of dinner, have small numbers of people visit for lunch or mid-morning coffee with treats. (People with dementia are often at their best in the morning and mid-day.) Consider wearing name tags or placing cards in front of plates. See whether one of your visitors is willing to act as your spouse’s buddy during the visit. That will give you more of a chance to socialize with others.

Decorations and music

Bright lights and holiday music may overload your spouse’s senses. Turn off some of the lights and turn down the music. Reposition or remove any decorations that could be trip hazards.

Manage your family’s expectations

Encourage your family to do go with the flow. If your spouse says something that’s incorrect or repetitive, ask them to let it go. Warn them that a visit may have to be cut short if your spouse gets tired. But let them know that even if your spouse may seem distracted or confused at times, it’s wonderful that they’re visiting.

Highview Residences’ homes in London and Kitchener are small, warm, inviting, and specially designed for people with dementia. For more information about Highview Residences, contact:

Highview Residences London
Hayley Gignac, General Manager
p: (519) 472-8882 ext 201

Highview Residences KW
Katlynne Elgie, General Manager
p: (519) 893-2374 ext 301

A new approach to dementia care

Two years after building the first residence in the Kitchener-Waterloo region specifically for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, Highview Residences has built a second.

The new Cedar Creek home, located at 20-C Reichert Drive in Kitchener, officially opened on Thursday, October 24.

“It really is one of the best options for dementia care that we have in our region,” said Michelle Martin, Executive Director of the Alzheimer Society of Waterloo- Wellington. Because of Highview’s special person-centred approach to care, residents feel like they’re at home. And that takes a huge load off their families.

The home is small, warm, and inviting. Only 28 residents will live at Cedar Creek, which is divided into two cottages with a private bedroom and bathroom for each resident.

Life at Highview doesn’t follow a standard schedule for everyone. Residents can wake up, have breakfast, and get dressed when they’re used to. They can choose to take a walk in Highview’s secure gardens, watch a favourite TV show, enjoy art or music, or help out in the home.

In November 2017, Jane Klugman, President at Whitney & Company Realty Limited, moved her mom into Blair Creek house, Highview’s first home in Kitchener. “It’s been great for all of us,” Jane said. “We know our Mom is getting amazing care. We get regular reports that are very detailed. The whole team at Highview is very welcoming, and I know my mom is well looked after. In fact, she is more than well looked after. We’re thrilled.”

“We help families make the transition of moving their loved one from their current home to a new home, one that has been designed to help make their lives easier and enable their independence,” says Joy Birch, Chief Operating Officer of Highview Residences. “Our approach is to help our residents navigate their day, with a guiding hand and love, encouraging them to do as much as they can. We support them when and how they need it, specific to their interests and life-story.”

Highview provides a failure-free environment, according to Activation Coordinator Kait Carnegie. Part of her role is to get to know each person’s interests and abilities. “If someone wants to help bake, that’s great. But if they simply want to sit, have a cup of tea, or share recipes, that’s okay too.”

“My main goal every day is to put a smile on someone’s face,” she said. “It’s to make sure that every day our residents wake up feeling loved and cared for.”

“Staff care deeply about what matters to the residents,” said Mary Pat Hinton, CEO of Emmetros, the creator of MemorySparx Connect, an innovative app that allows family to easily and securely share important personal life details and preferences of their loved one, share and receive daily updates, and chat with the people on the care team at Highview.

Building design is also key to Highview’s specialized care. In addition to being small and welcoming, the home has many dementia design features, including short hallways, calming colours, and clear sightlines. Both cottages have an enclosed garden with a figure-of-eight path to always bring the resident back home. All the wood furniture in the residence was sourced locally and is specifically designed to be appropriate for dementia care. The sights, sounds, and smells of home-cooking in the open-concept kitchen help with sensory cueing.

As much as the home is a nurturing setting, security is always a priority. The buildings have been designed to keep residents safe. Staff members are present at all times, day and night, and the home is fully secured.

The first Highview Residence was built in 2002 in London, Ontario by Cathy and Ross Chapin as a result of the personal struggles they endured when trying to find a peaceful place for Cathy’s parents to live after her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

A select number of rooms are now available at the new home in Kitchener. To book a tour, visit

For more information about Highview Residences, contact:

Highview Residences London
Hayley Gignac, General Manager
p: (519) 472-8882 ext 201

Highview Residences KW
Katlynne Elgie, General Manager
p: (519) 893-2374 ext 301

Joy Birch

Chief Operating Officer Highview Residences

Joy Birch is the Chief Operating Officer of Highview Residences: a specialized care home for people with dementia. Joy draws on personal experiences, research and (mostly) the stories of the families she meets every day, when helping them navigate the process of finding a home.

The Stages & Steps to Picking a Dementia Home

by Joy Birch, Chief Operating Officer, Highview Residences

The hope for this article is to provide you some tools, resources and thought-starters to help support your search for a Home for your loved one who has dementia. Feedback is welcome! Let us know how you’re finding it works for you.  Download, save it, print it, forward it – we hope it’s helpful.

There are five stages involved in choosing and moving your loved one who has dementia to a home, however, everyone is different and so your journey may be different also! Through years of working with families as they navigate this part of the journey we have generally found these are the Stages.

  1. Discovery – Info gathering
  2. Financial Review
  3. Home Visits
  4. Saying Yes and Moving Day
  5. Saying Yes and Moving Day 5

Stage 1 – Discovery and Information Gathering

This stage can be longer depending upon how much time there is between diagnosis and decision-day. The goal of this stage is to learn the terminology, benefits and features of different homes. Depending upon how much time you have, then you may want to make the following lists to organize your Discovery:


A) Online research – input words like: “dementia + home + city name [the city you would like the home to be in] and see what homes come up – that’s a good place to start. Note the list and start to look at each home. What are the top three (or five) homes listed?:

  1. ___________________________
  2. ___________________________
  3. ___________________________
  4. ___________________________
  5. ___________________________


B) Word-of-Mouth and Conversations

Do you know anyone who has recently walked this path of caring for someone who has dementia? If yes, make a list and find a way to reach out to them and ask them some basic questions about what home they were happy with and if they have any advice? It would be good to ask them: “what was really important to you when you were looking?”

  1. List of homes
  2. Any advice?
  3. What was important?

C) Trusted sources

Who would be on your list of trusted source for information and would you be able to ask them if they can suggest or recommend a home for people with dementia?


  Name: Phone #: Their Suggestion:
Family Doctor
Estate Planner
Financial Planner
Minister / Priest
HomeCare Agency
Social Worker
Geriatric physician
Hospital Discharge Planner


D) Home amenities and design:

Let’s take a minute and think about the key things you’d like a home for your Person to have or to do. What is non-negotiable and what is nice-to-have? Here are some ideas to get you started – try using a highlighter for must-have, a checkmark ( ✓) for nice-to-have and cross out the ones that don’t apply. Are there any to add that aren’t on this list?


Private room Private bathroom Government subsidized or Private Home


Geography-what city/cities?


Continuum of care or dementia specific home Accessible gardens
On City-bus route


A la carte care services or

All inclusive care services


Ability to care for all stages of dementia
Palliative care (end of life)


Delicious home-cooked meals


Dementia specific activities
Nursing staff on 24/7



Visiting hours and places for family to visit / to dine Can outside care be brought in
In-House Physician Secure – is the home fully safe Type of bathing / personal care services
Laundry services Pets allowed

Stage 2 – Financial Review: 

It will be important to have a good understanding of what the budget is for monthly fees as this may determine whether a private home (no government subsidy and all fees are paid for by the Person) or Long Term Care (“LTC”: government funded, fixed fees) will be the right choice for your loved one.  This is also why it’s helpful to understand the low-and-high fees for a home that is not all-inclusive, to be able to budget accurately. Some families will determine there is the financial capacity to do private care for (example) 2-years and by then their Person may be first on the waiting list for a LTC bed. You could consider asking about what services are included in the monthly fees*


Personal care Continence care Medication management
Portering Bathing Lift-assistance
Laundry Snacks and meals Therapeutic or specialty diets
Bathing Feeding Skin/wound care
Dementia specific activities Housekeeping


* if not included in the monthly fees, then the best-budget is one where you include the cost of each of these items, in the event that your Person needs them, they’re already in the budget.


Stage 3 – Shortlist and Home-Visits

Depending upon finances, you now can look at private or public homes.  Based upon your initial research and review of websites, make a short-list of the top five homes you’d like to visit and call / email them to book a tour. Go to that tour with a solid list of questions that you will ask each home, and write down the answers. Oftentimes there is a lot of information shared at these tours and it can be overwhelming. Taking notes and even bring another person with you to help process the information afterwards. Be sure to ask about the length of waiting list and all the previously mentioned amenities. But mostly, when you walk into a Home – stop for a moment, breath, and let it register with you: “how does his home feel to me?” Many families will say “I knew when we first walked in the door”.

Top 5 Homes to tour & date of tour:

  1. _______________________________________________________
  2. _______________________________________________________
  3. _______________________________________________________
  4. _______________________________________________________
  5. _______________________________________________________

Stage 4 – The Waiting List

Most specialized homes for people with dementia as well as LTC will have a waiting list. The recommendation is to ask how long the list is; is there a cost to go on the list; and what is the process and timing for when a room is offered? It is a good strategy to go on the waiting list for your top-3 homes and see which one comes up first. If you’ve chosen LTC then your LHIN Coordinator can help guide you in how many homes to choose. These homes will likely stay in-touch with you through the waiting time and it’s good to keep them updated on how your Person is doing.

Stage 5 – Saying Yes and Moving Day

It may seem like it takes a while, but the day will come when you’re offered a room. Now you have to decide: accept the room or go to the bottom of the list again. This is a tough decision for most families as they prefer to have their loved one at home, however, the strong recommendation is to say “yes”.  So many times, we have families on the list who say “not yet” and then unfortunately the time comes and it’s then too-late: their Person has changed, had a fall, or becomes palliative.

So you say “yes” – what happens next? There will be an assessment to ensure that the care needs of your Person can be met; an admission package to complete so that the home knows as much as possible about your Person before they move in and a moving-date is set. The moving process alone can feel daunting, but there are transition services out there whose specific job it is to help make the move as easy as possible for the Person and for the family: they are worth the time and money.

Many families will say “we never could have imagined how much better it could be” and that they wish they’d made the decision sooner. The resident will generally adjust to their new home sooner, when they move earlier in the progression of their disease and then they are truly getting the level of care that is most-needed, in a safe and secure environment.

Joy Birch is the Chief Operating Officer of Highview Residences: a specialized care home for people with dementia. Joy draws on personal experiences, research and (mostly) the stories of the families she meets every day, when helping them navigate the process of finding a home.  For a printable pdf version of this article, click here.

Highview Residences will open their second home on the Kitchener- Waterloo site, October 28, 2019.

Call or email today to book your room. 

Highview Residences London
Hayley Gignac, General Manager
p: (519) 472-8882 ext 201

Highview Residences KW
Katlynne Elgie, General Manager
p: (519) 893-2374 ext 301

People with Dementia Benefit from A Specialized Care Solution

The number of Canadians with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias is at an all-time high. While it is hard for a person living with this disease, in many ways it is even harder for family and friends as they journey alongside. The time will come when a decision will need to be made to move a loved one to a home.

Too often families work extremely hard to keep a loved one at home until the point of an emergency and then everything needs to move quickly. These challenges met Cathy Chapin when her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Together with her husband Ross, they tried to find a peaceful, person-centred place for her dad to live, ideally together with his wife of 60 years but in the end Cathy’s parents lived separate and apart until he died 2 years later. Cathy says “we realized the care dad needed wasn’t available. We wanted to help other families avoid the pain we endured and decided to build a specialized home ourselves.”

The desire to create a place dedicated to the needs of people with dementia goes back two decades when Ruth Constable (along with the help of her husband Jack and colleague Camille Taylor) opened the original Highview in 1996. It showcased a unique model of care that comes from a place of respect, where the Person and their needs are honoured. Cathy and Ross decided to partner with Ruth in 2002 and build a new specialized care home.

Every person with dementia is different in how their disease progresses but it is widely accepted that loud noises, lots of people and strict demands on time is stressful and overwhelming. At Highview Residences the philosophy of care is resident-focussed. This means that the flow of the day, activities, meals and personal care are driven by the resident and not by an imposed time-schedule. Just 12 to 14 residents live in each cottage creating a small community that fosters familiarity. All bedrooms are private and furnished with the resident’s belongings, allowing the family to create a space that is familiar and like home. Couples can even choose to share a room if they would like to continue to live together. Shorter hallways and natural sitting areas along with a common kitchen and dining room, create a home where residents can be gently cued and participate in activities of daily living.

The kitchen is open and proximal so the sight, sounds and smells of food being prepared by the chef help to cue the resident. “There is always the opportunity to be involved in the preparation of the meals. For some this means helping peel potatoes and for others, it is simply to sit and be involved in what’s happening – just like how people would gather in your kitchen when you have company”, says Joy Birch, Chief Operating Officer. “Residents eat together in a small dining room, an experience that is designed to provide a sense of community and familiarity”.

Highview requests an extensive history of a new resident’s interests and hobbies before they move in. This allows activities to be created that are familiar and more likely to engage them, so they can experience a sense of accomplishment throughout the day. The ratio of staff to resident is higher than average. This helps to ensure resident-centred care and so staff have time to better know the residents they care for.

Family and friends are always welcome to visit which can include a meal or a cup of tea, a walk in the private, secure gardens or sitting together in a porch. Each resident is welcomed by compassionate and caring people who help them settle into this home-like residence, encouraging them to fold laundry and do other household chores just as they may have done in their own home.

As much as Highview Residences is a nurturing home-like setting, security is always a priority. The buildings have been designed to keep residents safe with 24-hour staffing.

“When people walk through the doors, there is a sense of calmness. It is comfortable, welcoming and like your home,” says Birch. “Everything here, from the design of the cottages, the thoughtful and intentional approach to care, and the compassion of our staff helps to improve the quality of life for people with dementia, every day,” she adds.


Joy Birch is the Chief Operating Officer of Highview Residences and has been helping families process and navigate the move for their Person from home to Highview, a specialized care home for people with dementia. Joy draws on personal experiences, research and (mostly) the stories of the families she meets, every day, in the community and at Highview. For more information about Highview Residences, please go to:


Grand Opening Celebration!

Highview Residences Kitchener is holding the Grand Opening Celebration for our new Cedar Creek House!

Join us on Thursday, October 24th from 7:30am to 4:00pm.

Please email us at to RSVP.

Cedar Creek House - Under Construction

Under Construction

Cedar Creek House - Accessible Showers

Accessible Showers

Cedar Creek House - New Leadership Team

New Leadership Team

RSVP for our Grand Opening!

It’s Official!

The names have been chosen!

This time in Honour of the founding-women of Highview.

Highview Kitchener’s Second  Home will be named:

Cedar Creek House – named after the other Creek that flows into our property.

The Cottages within the House will be named:

Bowlby Cottage – In Honour of Cathy Chapin’s mother’s maiden name.

Cooper Cottage – In Honour of Carmen Franklin’s (Gray Franklin’s wife’s) maiden name.

Four Signs it is Time for a Move

by Joy Birch, Chief Operating Officer, Highview Residences

Does Someone You Love
Have Dementia?

Within 5 years an estimated 937,000 Canadians will live with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, as many as seventy-four per cent of us know someone with dementia. Not only is it hard for the person living with this disease, it is also hard for their family and friends as they journey together. Families often grapple with “when is it time?” and “we want them to stay at home as long as possible”. With the progression of this disease, the time will come when a decision needs to be made about where to live. That decision comes with a number of questions regarding security, care, emotional and physical health and recreational activities. Signs of advancing dementia will vary for every person, but there are four key traits to watch for that may indicate it’s time to think about making a move.

1. Personal care: Dementia can affect a person’s sense of self, which often results in visible symptoms such as neglected appearance, or a need for prompting of everyday tasks like bathing and grooming.

2. Household maintenance: People living with dementia often find it hard to complete daily tasks, and looking around your loved one’s home can be revealing. An empty refrigerator (or one filled with expired food), mixed up medications, or a scorched pot in the garbage can all reveal that your family member is experiencing difficulty with day-to-day life.

3. Social engagement: When friends and family get together you may notice signs of dementia not otherwise evident. Dementia affects how people express themselves and understand what is being communicated to them. Your loved one may be withdrawn and not engaging with others or could be deflecting questions about recent events. It is then important to ask yourself if they are having trouble remembering the last few days or if they are having difficulty finding the right words to communicate.

4. Spousal protection: When a spouse notices that their partner is having trouble with memory or communication, it is not uncommon for them to attempt to cover up the difficulties by compensating for the dementia. You may notice your father is answering questions for your mother, or that one parent looks to the other for a cue before answering a question.

There are two indicators that a change must happen quickly:

  • If the person with dementia wanders out of their home and is safely returned home. It is a gift that they are safe but a sure sign that it can happen again.
  • The primary caregiver’s health and wellness is changing or declining which changes the whole dynamic of what care is needed.

Too often families work hard to keep a loved one at home as long as possible until the point of an emergency, then everything needs to move quickly. Some research will need to be done such as contacting the South West Local Health Integration Network for an assessment. Next steps could include looking at in-home care services or deciding on a long term care home or a private retirement home.

These questions and challenges met Cathy Chapin when her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Together with her husband Ross, they tried to find a peaceful, person-centred place for her dad to live with his wife of 60 years. In the end Cathy’s parents lived apart until he died two years later. “We realized the care Dad needed wasn’t available. We wanted to help other families avoid the pain we endured and decided to build a specialized home ourselves”, says Cathy.

Highview is a purpose-built, secure residence that provides specialized care for people with Alzheimer ’s disease and related dementia. Every resident has a private bedroom and en suite bathroom. The goal of care is to create a home-like setting where persons with dementia feel loved and safe, where their needs are met, and where they can engage in meaningful activities.

“I am thrilled that there will be a top quality care option available in our area, for people with dementia” says Michelle Martin, Executive Director, Alzheimer Society of Waterloo Wellington. “Highview offers personalized care designed for each individual’s needs and lifestyles, in an at-home setting”. As much as Highview Residences is a nurturing homelike setting, security is always a priority. The buildings have been designed to keep residents safe, with staff present at all times. Since opening in London over fifteen years ago, Highview Residences has provided exceptional, loving care to many people.“With the Kitchener-Waterloo home open and now expanding, this tradition will continue and we look forward to serving the families, caregivers and residents alike”, says Joy Birch, Chief Operating Officer.

For more information about Highview Residences, contact:

Highview Residences KW
Katlynne Elgie, General Manager
p: (519) 893-2374 ext 301

Highview Residences London
Hayley Gignac, General Manager
p: (519) 472-8882 ext 201

Highview Residences Recognized for Exceptional Dementia Care

Highview Residences’ Chief Operating Officer, Joy Birch, showcases the evidence-based amenities Highview has to offer on CTV News Kitchener.

Joy Birch

Watch the video here!

Highview Residence – Summer Menu 2019

Summer Menu