Aynsley Moorhouse and LJ Nelles, co-creators of the Reitman Centre’s CREATE program, prepare materials for their upcoming session with care partners.

Caring for someone with dementia is an extraordinary responsibility and can be isolating and overwhelming even in the best circumstances, explain LJ Nelles and Aynsley Moorhouse, co-creators and leaders of CREATE, an arts-based psychotherapeutic program offered by the Reitman Centre, Mount Sinai Hospital, for care partners of persons with dementia.

“Care partners sometimes say they lose sight of who they are, because their lives have changed so much. Our evidence-based programs help them focus on themselves through therapeutic interventions that allow us to meet their specific needs,” says LJ.

CREATE is informed by best practices that draw on principles of group psychotherapy, and uses the arts as a tool to deepen self-reflection and connection to others. Both LJ and Aynsley apply their deep knowledge as professional artists and mental health clinicians(registered psychotherapist and social worker respectively).  

The program, currently offered virtually, encourages care partners to nurture self-compassion and self-expression through storytelling, poetry, photography, music and visual art. They learn effective communication skills and strategies to help engage more deeply with themselves and the person they are caring for. One session, for example, involves writing poetry using a photograph as a prompt. The participants connect with one another through sharing their poetry, and adaptations are offered for use at home.

“This activity allows care partners to invite connection, not through linear storytelling, but by allowing for spontaneity,” says LJ.

“We make the exercises very dementia-positive. There is beauty in what we might traditionally think of as a mistake. That’s often where the beauty and imagination lies – encouraging through acceptance,” says Aynsley.

“Often we hear positive feedback from care partners about the impact of the program. We’ve had people report enhanced connection or acceptance and even speaking for the first time … with one of the adapted activities. The program can provide a profound experience,” says LJ.

CREATE makes space for sadness, loss and frustration, while allowing for the joy and possibility of finding new meaning through self-exploration and expression.

CREATE sessions are open to a province-wide network of partner agencies.

Care partners are often referred to the program after participating in the Reitman Centre’s CARERS (Coaching, Advocacy, Respite, Education, Relationship, Simulation) program.

The Reitman Centre is the provincial hub for the Enhancing Care Program, part of the Ontario Dementia Strategy funded by the Ministry of Health.