This alum is bringing joy to seniors with dementia in the midst of the pandemic
By Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations
When Danielle Axton posted on social media asking people to send holiday cards to residents at the assisted living facility she works at, she had no idea the post would go viral, resulting in thousands of cards arriving from across the globe.
Danielle, a Therapeutic Recreation diploma grad, is the Memory Living Manager at Chartwell Langley Gardens Memory Living, an assisted living home for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Knowing how difficult it is for her residents to stay in touch with friends and family, especially during COVID-19, Danielle wanted to find a way to connect them with the community.
During the last holiday season, Danielle shared a social media post where she asked people in the community to send cards to the residents.
“I wanted to think outside the box and figure out what I could do to help bring them some joy,” Danielle says.
She only expected a handful to arrive, but to her surprise, the post went viral, and cards began pouring in from across the globe.
“I can’t count how many cards we received, but I can comfortably say it’s been well over 5,000,” says Danielle, who also notes they still received cards well into February. “We’ve received a surprising amount from Germany and Japan, but they came in from all over the world. It’s been amazing to see how something like this can resonate with so many people.”
After isolating the cards for three days, the Memory Living staff put them on the dining room table for the residents to read and share.
“People poured their hearts into these cards. The residents look forward to reading them every single day,” says Danielle. After the residents read the cards, they were hung on the walls as a reminder to residents that the world is still connected, even during a pandemic.
Danielle’s dedication to her residents hasn’t gone unnoticed. She was recently awarded Chartwell’s 2020 Memory Living Manager of the Year award, a national award recognizing her work in making a difference in her residents’ lives during a year where they haven’t been able to see their families as much as they used to.
“I feel so blessed that I get to help make people’s lives better every single day,” she says.
Road to Douglas
Danielle always knew she wanted to work with older adults. When she discovered therapeutic recreation – the use of leisure and recreation activities to improve the health, well-being and quality of life for seniors and people living with disabilities or illness – she knew she’d found her career, and enrolled at Douglas College.
“The program really emphasizes that this field is not only about having fun and making meaningful connections, but it also highlights how important the work we do on a daily basis is,” says Danielle. “We are taught from the very beginning to think outside the box and to individualize our approaches so our residents can live a satisfying and fulfilling life that is filled with purpose and meaning.”
Practice makes perfect
Danielle honed the skills she learned in the classroom through two practicums – one at Holyrood Manor, a long-term care home in Maple Ridge, and the other at the now-closed mental health facility Riverview Hospital, in Coquitlam.
“My practicums challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone,” Danielle says. “Holyrood Manor allowed me to work with older adults, while Riverview allowed me to gain more experience on the mental health side. There are so many times, especially in the senior population, where a diagnosis of dementia is also partnered with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, for example. There are so many intersections in this field, so my practicums were beneficial in helping inform the type of care I continue to provide today.”
Now 10 years into her career, Danielle is more motivated than ever to continue to offer unique, person-centred care to older adults with dementia.
“Quality care for this population can really make their lives that much brighter. These are the people that shaped the way we live our lives now, and they deserve to have the best experience possible as they travel through their dementia journey. It means so much to me that I get to be a part of their lives.”