Encouraging French speaking helps Summerset Manor residents

Supporting Island families -

A new culturally informed approach to long-term care is helping Summerset Manor’s Acadian and Francophone residents feel more at home.

The pilot project allows people with French as a mother tongue to get housing and care in a French-speaking environment. Gayle Lamont, administrator at Wedgewood and Summerset Manors, says Summerset has dedicated a full 26-bed neighborhood to residents who are bilingual or have a French language preference. She says government’s goal was to create a better environment for aging Francophones by changing their primary language of service.

“Sometime it can be a struggle because older Francophones may have been socialized to feel that it was rude to proceed in French in an environment like this, Lamont said. “They’ll answer in English even when you start in French. So we’ve put up signs and talked to people to let them know that this is a place where French is not just allowed, but encouraged.”

Lamont said care workers in the new neighbourhood are all chosen from French-speaking staff, and emphasis has been placed on assigning French-speaking maintenance staff and cleaners in this area if possible. The experience is broadened with Acadian cultural events, and with gatherings that pair nursing home residents with French and French-Immersion students to encourage cross generational sharing.

Summerside was originally identified as an area in which there was fairly large francophone population from the Evangeline region, yet there were no long-term care beds set aside for them.

That changed after the new Summerset Manor went into service in 2013.

“When we set it up, we ID’d all residents and asked if they would like to be in the new bilingual neighbourhood,” Lamont said. “We also ID’d residents in Wedgewood who said they may like to transfer to be part of this neighbourhood.”

The French language service improves the quality of care for residents and even mean the difference between staff being able to communicate with a resident or not.

“When there are cases of dementia, someone who first spoke French may revert and only speak French, even if they used English throughout their adult life,” Lamont said.

 “With aging or dementia, one of the things that can really have a negative effect is loneliness or boredom -- and that only increases when language is an issue.

 “We don’t want anyone to feel lonely or bored because of a linguistic barrier.”

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