By Leticia Pickard and Dr. Paulette Hunter, St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan

To embrace the end of life in peace, comfort and a dignified manner is the premise of Namaste Care™.

Namaste Care™, created by Joyce Simard, emphasizes programming for residents with advanced dementia, who are no longer able to participate in traditional recreation activities and are no longer able to tell us who they are or who they were. These residents are involved in a group program that emphasizes caring touch, meaningful activities and “honours the spirit within” as defined by the Hindu word Namaste.

Outside the program, attention to end-of-life care is emphasized. This includes recommended procedures for in‐room care when residents are actively dying, a special blanket ceremony and a final blessing after a resident has died.

Saskatoon Convalescent Home is one of the first long-term care homes in Canada to offer Namaste Care™ to residents. The philosophy fits in well with the home’s philosophy, which began embracing end-of-life care well before introducing Namaste Care™.

Doreen Kopp, Spiritual Care Coordinator, explains that end-of-life care has always been part of the culture at the home. She says the home’s practices align very well with the end-of-life care practices recommended by Simard.

Volunteer Mahdiyar Armeen reads with Isabel Ashley during Namaste Care™.

Volunteer Mahdiyar Armeen reads with Isabel Ashley during Namaste Care™.

Saskatoon Convalescent Home began using the butterfly symbol to mark the end of life even before Namaste Care™ was introduced. A special tradition in the home is a Butterfly Ceremony, which is held in the room of a resident who has just passed away. Staff and family are present for the ceremony. The deceased resident may also be there, depending on the family’s wishes. All in attendance offer comfort to the family and provide the family with a card containing the symbol of the butterfly and a special message of care, which is read aloud.

Another compatible end-of-life care approach that the home has been encouraging is for staff across departments (e.g., nurses, continuing care assistants, recreation and dietary staff) to provide support to the deceased’s family members in the form of music, food, beverages and emotional assistance.

Geraldine Wiebe and Charlene Rempel show one of the two quilts they donated to honour residents who have died.

Geraldine Wiebe and Charlene Rempel show one of the two quilts they donated to honour residents who have died.

However, other end-of-life care practices at the Saskatoon Convalescent Home have been directly inspired by Namaste Care™. One of these practices is an emphasis on caring touch. Kopp explains that for some families, touch is instinctive, whereas for others it may not be.  During Namaste Care™, touch and physical closeness is expressed in a number of ways that can appeal to everyone; for example, sitting beside the resident, offering a hand massage, washing the resident’s face and hands with warm water or gently combing hair.

Kopp says that physical touch is a beautiful way for family members to help their loved one as they progress towards death, and notes that teaching families about these Namaste Care™ practices has enhanced the home’s approach to end-of-life care.

Saskatoon Convalescent Home has also incorporated a blanket ceremony and final blessing to the end-of-life care offered to residents since introducing Namaste Care™. When a resident dies, a beautifully homemade quilt is placed over the resident’s body and remains on the resident as he or she is accompanied out of the home to the hearse or vehicle for transport to the funeral home. Family, friends, clergy, staff and other residents are encouraged to watch or accompany the resident’s body as a final expression of respect. The procession ends with a final blessing.

Kopp says that the spiritual ceremony can be very powerful, allowing a safe environment for the expression of grief.

End-of-life care is an important aspect of long-term care. The prior practices at Saskatoon Convalescent Home, as well as the adoption of ideas from Namaste Care™, have all contributed to a positive approach towards death and a way “to honour the Spirit within” (Namaste).