Sleep kit aims to empower dementia caregivers

St. Thomas University social work student Eve Baird said she feels like there are no tangible resources for dementia patients in New Brunswick. The perceived lack of tangible resources was the inspiration for the social work student’s creation, The Sleep Kit — which she describes as a “bedtime routine in a box.”

“It’s an opportunity for the individual to relax before bed, but also an opportunity for their care partner to practice self-care,” she said.

The Sleep Kit is a curated box of products to help people with dementia sleep better at night. It contains a copy of Anne of Green Gables, a herbal pillow, essential oil, a colouring book, a hairbrush and comb, lotion, jumbo-sized playing cards, a hand mirror, a sleep diary, tea, a prompt book and a therapeutic CD.

“There are several different items that focus on the five senses and looks at how one on one social interaction between two people before bed could help someone sleep,” said Baird.

Baird said many resources currently centre around children’s products like toys, colouring books and puzzles. She feels people with dementia shouldn’t have to be subjected to playing with objects children typically used.

(Aaron Sousa/AQ)

She wanted something that looked more mature for the older demographic.

“I wanted to have something more age-appropriate,” Baird said.

In 2016, Baird graduated with a bachelor of arts at STU with double major in gerontology and English and a minor in psychology. She started the bachelor of social work program at STU this year in August. She said she was inspired to create the sleep kit after taking a gerontology class called Aging and Health with professor Janet Durkee-Lloyd during her final year of her bachelor of arts program.

In the class, Baird wrote about dementia and found out sleep disturbances were something that impacted many people. Durkee-Lloyd wanted her to come up with an innovative solution for it.

During Baird’s research, she found a study that said keeping people living with dementia engaged throughout the day would help them sleep at night.

“This gave me the idea of ‘What if you were to do these activities right before bed? Would that have a better effect on their sleep?'” she said.

Baird said after presenting the paper in front of the class, Durkee-Lloyd encouraged her to pursue the project further.

But after graduation from her bachelor of arts, Baird put the project on hold to work in the Memory Care unit at the York Care Centre as an Activity Coordinator in December 2016. A month later, she learned of a $50,000 research grant funded by the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation.

She applied for the grant and received it, and after, she was able to get $50,000 more from the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation to fund the project in January 2018 as well.

With the $100,000, Baird created 50 sleep kits and distributed them to 41 residents for a trial study from July to November 2018.

“I met with people in the community one-on-one and went through the kit to show them how to use it.”

“But I wanted it to be something that empowered caregivers too. I didn’t want to be too structured because I wanted them to come up with different ways to use the items.”

During her time at the York Care Centre, before the trial run of the kit, Baird used the products with other patients while she worked in long-term care. Since they had a positive effect on them, she added them to the kit later.

Baird said many of the items are locally sourced or produced in Canada. The CD was recorded by local Fredericton musicians the Johnson Family, Elizabeth Walker and Zachary Greer. The tracks, which were recorded for the project, are covers of older ballads and folk songs with the hope they will bring back memories for patients. The colouring book, designed by local graphic designer Dylan Sweeney has pictures of Hopewell Rocks, fishing boats and local wildlife.

Baird sells the kits exclusively online for $125 plus tax through her website. She’s received orders from across the country. She boxes each kit individually with help from her parents, her friend and her partner.

Through networking, Baird managed to have her kit implemented at the Alzheimers Society Resource Centre.

Baird said she admires the resources made available at the Alzheimers Society Resource Centre, but said it’s necessary to have more things for people to try and connect with their loved ones.

“A lot of times, people come into the nursing home and say, ‘I don’t know how to interact with my uncle living with dementia,’ so this is a box of different ideas that anyone can try.”

One dementia patient didn’t have a lot of visitors. During the trial study, one study volunteer was paired up with the patient. Thanks to the kit, she said she even ended up building a friendship. She said even after the project was over, the volunteer continued to visit him and take him places.

She hopes to get the products into nursing homes through direct marketing. However, Baird said she wishes to do more. She said she doesn’t have time to market it as much as she would like to.

Baird said she hopes the number of resources for patients continues to grow within the coming years.

“It means a lot to know that the sleep kit is having an impact on people.”

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