Recent News

Recent News

VHA Heart in Mind toolkit provides a new way to empower caregivers and clients affected by dementia

September 25, 2020
PSW stands by client as he completes a puzzle

VHA Home HealthCare’s Heart in Mind Activation Therapy was released this September, providing new and creative ways to engage loved ones and clients living with dementia.

Heart in Mind Logo

Heart in Mind Activation Therapy is a free online toolkit designed to provide practical ideas to engage with clients living with dementia in a meaningful way. The module provides easy access to feelings-based communication and activity ideas to empower families, personal support workers, therapists and other health care providers to stimulate the body and mind.

“With this project, we aspire to empower caregivers to better understand the role of feelings in dementia and to help them use this knowledge to enhance their person-centred care,” said Brandi D’Souza, co-creator of Heart in Mind and Physiotherapist with VHA Home HealthCare (VHA).

Heart in Mind was born and developed with the help of a grant from Baycrest’s Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation as well as co-creators and VHA Occupational Therapists Motria Sabat and Wilfred Leung.

Photo of Heart in Mind Co-Creator Brandi Photo of Heart in Mind Co-Creator Motria Photo of Heart in Mind Co-Creator Wilfred

VHA’s Heart in Mind co-creators: Brandi D’Souza, VHA Physiotherapist (left), Motria Sabat, VHA Occupational Therapist (centre) and Wilfred Leung, VHA Occupational Therapist (right)

“In my work as an OT, I often encounter clients who struggle with their memory, with various diagnoses including Alzheimer’s,” said Motria.

“It can be difficult to see not only clients struggle with fading memories, but caregivers struggle with how to engage and relate to the changes they see.”

That’s a big reason why the team set out to create Heart in Mind. Through the tool, they seek to offer users the knowledge about the role of feelings in dementia, as well as practical tips to engage in conversations and activities that focus on feeling good.  

The Heart in Mind free printable booklet and e-module training course is easily accessible anytime at The program covers a wide range of strategies to enhance the quality of life for those living with dementia including how to: engage feelings, understand personal stories and interests, communicate in their language and take part in meaningful activities.

Screenshot of the Heart in Mind Module  A screenshot of Heart in Mind module

The research process began in May 2018. The need for a tool like Heart in Mind came out of discussions with Client Partners as part of VHA’s focused work in caring for people with cognitive challenges. After completing a Dementia Care Matters Butterfly Model course, which had already shown promise in the long term care setting, the team felt confident they could build something that would honour a person and emotion-centred approach to dementia care for home care providers.

“About 2 years ago, an invitation was extended to join the Cognitive Impairment Steering Committee and during this time, a previous project was identified that could be restarted to assist our clients and their care partners,” said Wilfred.

They were able to incorporate other learnings from their work at VHA into Heart in Mind, including a tool to engage physical activity for older adults living with cognitive impairment, and research on the Indigenous Cognition and Aging Awareness Research Exchange.

Brandi, Wilfred and Motria also consulted with family caregivers and VHA personal support workers, who provided valuable insights that helped shape the content of the toolkit.

“It was so exciting to build upon great work that has already been done at VHA and beyond, said Brandi.

“The ultimate vision is to change the dialogue on how care can be provided in the home – from a task-based orientation to a relationship-centred approach, creating a collaborative spirit between the care team where heart is at the top of our minds.”