Improving the Quality of Life for Dementia Patients

Mimi DeVinney: ‘They need to be treated with respect’

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

As a dementia and quality of life specialist at St. John’s Home, Mimi DeVinney has worked with those battling dementia for more than 22 years.

Understanding that the disease is on the rise, she has helped engineer several programs at St. John’s Home to improve the quality of life for its residents and their caregivers.

“I have a genuine love for working with people with dementia. They are unique and fun to work with and it is just a rewarding part of my life,” said DeVinney. “We have to be honest, we are all getting older and as the baby boomer generation ages, we are going to see more cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s not a scenario that people want to talk about, but they need to be aware and know how to handle it.”

Dementia is a syndrome, usually of a chronic or progressive nature, that leads to deterioration in cognitive function. Currently more than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year, according to the World Health Organization. These people may benefit from the expert care and services provided by facilities like Summerfield Memory Care of Roseville.

DeVinney found innovative ways to engage residents and recently helped create Beyond Memory dementia care recreational rooms.

DeVinney and her team named the “she shed” and “man cave” to ensure residents receive a place to go for fun and socializing. The rooms feature a spa, hair salon, a chess table and small putting green among other engaging activities that provide an enjoyable and safe place for residents navigating through various dementia stages.

“I like working with people with dementia because they’re always in the moment, they are very honest, they get pleasure out of things that sometimes we take for granted and they love people unconditionally,” she said. “You can definitely see the change in the mood of somebody who goes from being bored with nothing to do to finding something that they enjoy, something that makes them feel contributing that they can be helpful. Things that remind them of things they used to do.”

Beyond Memory focuses on the idea that people living with dementia have the right to live a life full of joy. Residents have a “well-being” plan to address the specific needs of each elder as well as a “Journey of You” (JOY) profile that tells their story in a way that ensures nurses have a road map of each elder’s journey.

Formerly partially funded through a Greater Rochester Health Foundation grant, staff members have helped improve the lives of the 86% of residents in St. John’s living with the condition.

“We try to focus on retaining ability and creating an atmosphere where they are comfortable using best practices like music and other aspects to just amplify quality of life,” said DeVinney.

The facility saw a 66% decrease in high-risk adverse behavior among residents with dementia. She is also instrumental in working with dementia families and patients to ensure they have resources needed to ensure elders and their families have quality care.

“Mimi brings a deep understanding not only of dementia, but how it impacts the elders living here and the employees who work with them,” said Diane Bogaczyk, St. John’s director of nursing.

“She is able to teach and guide staff in growing their understanding as well. Mimi quietly goes about her day, sharing her knowledge by spending most of her time with the elders and caregivers and helping everyone to see the person that dwells within, rather than the challenges that he or she may struggle with.”

DeVinney trains staff members from their day one orientation about what to expect from their residents. She authors a column, which is found on St. John’s website, where anyone can write to her and ask questions about dementia because there are many people who are caregivers looking for extra support.

“In this workplace, it is extremely important no matter who you are that you understand various aspects of dementia because you will be touched by someone here dealing with it,” she added.

She focuses on talking with family members who many times have questions and also want to understand what is going on with their loved ones. Before the pandemic hit, DeVinney led support groups.

“People with dementia feel the way people treat them differently. They talk about them like they are already gone,” she said. “We have to be mindful of how we treat people, especially later in their lives. They need to be treated with respect. How you make someone feel always makes a difference.”

Last year, DeVinney also used her passions to help develop “St. John’s Online Dementia Resource Center.” The website (https://dementia.stjohnsliving.org) is a “tool box” for at-home dementia caregivers to find answers to questions that come up on a daily basis, helping to guide them to a better understanding of their loved one and their needs.

In addition, the facility implemented new technological programs to enhance the residents’ experience. Embodied Labs provides several VR-based programs that can help employees, volunteers, and family members better empathize with residents living with chronic conditions including dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and vision/hearing loss. St. John’s recently incorporated Embodied Labs sessions into orientation and training after a group of employees tried the program at an industry conference.

St John’s leadership is happy that DeVinney is on their side when it comes to helping the organization, family and residents deal with this difficult disease.

“She is an inspiration to work with and is always my go-to expert with any questions regarding providing the highest level of care and quality of life for all of our elders who are living with dementia,” said Bogaczyk. “We are extremely fortunate to have Mimi on our team.”

Featured Image: Mimi DeVinney, a dementia and quality of life specialist at St. John’s Home, has found innovative ways to engage residents.