Markham boutique hotel for dementia patients built to give their caregivers a break

A unique hotel set to open in Markham, Ont., Friday will provide premium care for those with dementia in a "boutique" setting, so family caregivers can get the rest they need.

Half a million Canadians have dementia and that number is expected to double in 15 years

A Memory & Company client in a pet therapy session. The company has partnered with Toronto universities to develop cognitive therapy programs for those with dementia. (Supplied)

When her close friend's husband was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's at the age of 65, Liliane Vidicek saw just how taxing caring for him could be. His decline was rapid and within 14 months he needed care around the clock.

So Vidicek became one of his caregivers to help give her friend a break.

"It's very, very important — that's the biggest issue. They can't get away or even if they have somebody come in, they're still always there," she said.

So, she thinks it's great that a new hotel opening in Markham, Ont., Friday will provide premium short-term care for people living with memory loss or dementia, so their caregivers can have some respite. 

Experts say the demand for such as service is expected to grow as more than half a million Canadians have dementia. That number is expected to double within 15 years as Canada's population ages, putting pressure on hundreds of thousands of loved ones who will have to step into the role of caregiver.

Liliane Vidicek became a caregiver to her friend's husband after he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at the age of 65. She saw how providing care to someone with dementia can be a 24/7 challenge. (supplied)

"So if they could drop them off and kind of separate themselves from the person knowing that their loved one is well taken care of — it gives them great peace of mind," Vidicek said.

The hotel is the latest project by Memory & Company, which opened an adult daycare centre in Markham four years ago for clients who have dementia and are not eligible, or cannot get into, a long-term care facility.

"When you're a caregiver for somebody living with memory loss it's a 'round-the-clock responsibility," said Ashley Kwong, Memory & Company's creator and director of operations.

"A lot of families really struggle with working full-time and then caring for somebody when they get home at night. It's a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week responsibility."

With such features as a luxury spa, the facility is more like a boutique hotel than an institution for dementia patients. (supplied)

The term dementia describes symptoms affecting brain function caused by neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's, although injuries or other types of vascular disease can lead to a decline in cognitive abilities, such as memory, awareness of person, place, and time.

As it progresses, dementia can mean a person needs help with daily activities, such as eating, bathing, dressing and going to the toilet.

But Kwong says care doesn't necessarily have to be in an institutional setting.

"We've done it as upscale boutique hotel feel," said Kwong, who adds it's more like all-inclusive resort with 24- hour nursing activities and even fine dining prepared by an executive chef in an open concept gourmet kitchen.

"We really want to make sure that when people come here they feel like they're coming to a resort."

Kwong says the hotel was built with dementia design principles in mind — including circular hallways, private rooms with ensuite washrooms and motion sensors throughout for a secure and safe environment.

There's a physical fitness studio, outdoor lounges and even a movie theatre along with cognitive fitness programs including music and art therapy that have been developed by York University and the University of Toronto, Baycrest and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Memory & Company's open concept gourmet kitchen. (supplied)

"You want them to feel like they're coming to a place where they will be pampered, so that caregivers will have guilt free respite knowing that their loved one's coming here and being really well taken care of and having a great time,'' said Kwong.

"So that they can go and have that time to themselves without having to worry and actually go and enjoy their free time themselves."

Nalini Sen, the director of research with the Alzheimer Society of Canada, says such a hotel can make a big difference in the lives of those with dementia and improve their care.

"Providing care for someone with Alzheimer's disease and dementia takes a tremendous toll on caregivers both physically and emotionally," said Sen.

"And yet many caregivers don't often recognize the warning signs or deny the effects because they tend to push their own needs to the side," she added.

Ashley Kwong, Memory & Company's creator and director of operations, says the idea for a hotel grew out of the needs of families struggling with full-time jobs and the around-the-clock demands of caring for a loved one with dementia. (supplied)

"This is an essential service that really should be provided to caregivers. You know taking a break and having a chance to do something for yourself to get away from the demands that have been placed on you."

Sen hopes the next federal government commits to funding a national dementia strategy and to researching dementia prevention, advance therapies and potential cures.

Sen would also like to see support for such respite centres like Memory & Company's hotel, which is a private, for-profit business.

Kwong points out that at $299 a night, the hotel is a third of the price of home care.

Nalini Sen, the director of research at The Alzheimer Society of Canada, says caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease and dementia takes a tremendous toll on caregivers, both physically and emotionally. (supplied)

"Families are spending $35 an hour for home care, where we're working out to about $12.50 an hour and then you get everything including meals," said Kwong. "So everything is included ... We have 24 hour nursing here, as well and a minimum five-to-one staffing ratio."

Liliane Vidicek says the hotel won't be the right fit for all caregivers and their loved ones.

"Not everybody can afford it, but for those who can this is kind of like they're doing something special for their loved one," she said. "So it's a little bit of an indulgence."

Vidicek started a website to share resources with those who may be new to caring for someone with dementia. 

"Not all levels of people with Alzheimer's are appropriate for that kind of facility, but many will be, especially at the beginning of dementia and Alzheimer's when caregivers need the most help," she said. 


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC National News

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with three decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.


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