In honor of World Physical Therapy Day which is observed on September 8 to raise awareness of the crucial work which physiotherapists do in society, our colleague at Business Growth, Anukriti Banerjee interviewed Patrik Döl, a physiotherapist and the Head of Operations at Villa Basilika. Here she recounts what she learned from the experience. 

Swedish healthcare, specifically elderly and dementia-care, is top-ranked globally. A welfare state, healthcare in Sweden is largely funded with tax money. In 2016, the average out-of-pocket health spending per capita was $821 in Sweden. In comparison, it was $1013 in the United States and $2326 in Switzerland (Peterson-Kaiser Health Systems Tracker). Since 2018, the government has also adopted a national strategy for dementia care. The strategy identifies seven key areas that need to be secured in order to deliver comprehensive, high-quality care for people living with dementia and support their caregivers. 

However, what makes care so special in Sweden is not just the economic and social structures put in place by the government to support the elderly. It is also the professionals working in the field who go to great lengths to ensure that people in need of support and assistance receive it in the best way possible. They understand that like any other service, good care cannot be provided only through goodwill. It needs to come from people who carry the knowledge to understand individual needs and are equipped with the right tools to address any kind of situation, as is the case in any other profession. 

This Swedish mindset was highlighted when the municipality of Tyresö decided to train and certify all of its employees in Silviahemmet’s dementia care philosophy. This means that all permanent employees working in elderly care in Tyresö have had specialized education in dementia from Stiftelesen Silviahemmet. While Silvia-certified individuals and institutions are spread throughout the country, Tyresö is the first and the only municipality in Sweden to have achieved this incredible feat.

To understand how this has impacted the lives of the people who live in Tyresö, I interviewed Patrik Döl, who is the Head of Operations at Villa Basilika a care home for people living with dementia. Located in a quiet residential area, about 15 minutes from Tyresö Center, Villa Basilika is one of Vardaga’s homes in the area, designed to be dementia-friendly. The residents are people living with different stages of the disease. 

Villa Basilika

The interview started with Patrik giving me a tour of the facility. He demonstrated how everything, right down to the smallest details like the color of the cups, is meticulously planned to create a calm and comfortable environment for people living with dementia.

 

“The colors help separate the utensils from the table. The material also ensures that minimal sound is created. Even we sometimes find restaurants noisy due to the constant clanking of the cutlery. For people living with dementia, this sound can a source of much greater discomfort”

The flooring, color of the curtains, use of the common area, moveable furniture are just some of the elements which have been designed to create a dementia-friendly space.

I could already see how care homes in Sweden were different but I was curious about the daily lives of the residents here. I was impressed when I learned of the various activities that were organized by the staff – from small outings to eat ice-cream in the summer to major events like a boat trip to Åland, Finland. The staff here constantly tries to ensure that life after moving into the support facility remains as ‘normal’ and exciting as possible. 

The tour continued and Patrik introduced me to Anna (name has been changed for confidentiality purposes), one of the residents at Villa Basilika. Anna kindly invited me into her room where I saw how beautifully it had been decorated with her personal possessions like pictures, paintings, and gifts. She asked me about my background and upon learning I am a student, she pointed to one of the paintings, and sweetly recalled her high-school graduation. She said, “that is the middle of the town where I grew up. That painting is from my high-school graduation ceremony. After high school, I studied to become a nurse to care for babies.” Anna also showed me pictures of her grandparents hanging on the wall and a handmade carpet which was a gift from her daughter. Patrik pointed to a tomato plant and said that it was in a terrible condition before Anna started taking care of it and it made Anna very happy to hear that. I could see that every object in the room had an associated memory and was meaningful in some way. Patrik explained that the rooms were designed carefully to ensure the safety of the residents but they were free to set it up as per their liking.  “Starting a new chapter in life often means leaving the past behind. For people with dementia, this can mean leaving their whole life behind. That is why we ask their families to bring in as much of it as possible.” 

Villa Basilika

Picture of Anna’s lovely room which was taken with her permission

Patrik has worked at Vardaga for 4 years and in his present role for just over 2 years. With a background in physiotherapy, Patrik used to work in rehabilitation for people with polio disease before changing focus to work in elderly care. When asked how working in dementia care is different, he said, “In elderly-care, the care is mostly just for supporting the elderly person to live an active and healthy life. When it comes to dementia, the care is also for the loved ones of the people living with dementia.”

He continued, “Often, people equate taking care of a person living with dementia to taking care of a child. But that is not correct. Children don’t know much about the world around them and are in a position where they need to be taught. You have to remember, people living with dementia may not be able to express it but they carry a wealth of knowledge, learned throughout their lifetime. Acknowledging the importance of this is what person-centered care is all about. It places the person and their knowledge at the center and reinforces the caregiver to critically re-think the way they approach care. Being condescending or ignorant may be the reason why we miss out on important things he or she might be trying to communicate.”

As a manager, Patrik sees immense value in the Silviahemmet education programs. He says that not only does the program teach you practical caregiving skills but it is also structured to empower the individual. Unlike a traditional, teacher-to-student transfer of knowledge, the Silviahemmet training ensures that every individual feels capable to take charge of the situations they are faced with. “When I walk into the training and evaluation sessions, I am made to feel like I have the solution. I believe that I can find the answers and that is what is so unique about the program.”

Villa Basilika

Image: Villa Basilika

Speaking about the future of care, Patrik mentioned he would like to see a re-thinking in the way care is delivered around the world. He recounted the story of one resident living with advanced-stage cognitive decline who found his clothes as a source of great discomfort. Caregivers would spend over half an hour each day trying to help the resident get dressed. However, when pet therapy was introduced, it was almost by magic that the problem was solved. He didn’t show any signs of anxiety while getting dressed and it took just five minutes to put his shirt on. This is just one of the many examples which shows the possibility of revolutionizing care if we open ourselves to new ideas.  

This experience left me with a better understanding of why Swedish elderly and dementia care is consistently top-ranked. When passionate individuals like Patrik are supported and empowered with the right skillset, it results in the creation and sustenance of a system where ‘best’ naturally becomes the ‘standard’.