There are two medical terms that strike fear into the hearts of families with relatives in the ‘boomer’ generation; Alzheimer’s and dementia – both diseases usually associated with older people. Medical research devotes considerable time and investment into research for effective treatments and prevention for these diseases. In the meantime, patients and especially the families and caregivers who look after their family members need training and support.

The Steinberg Simulation Centre at McGill University’s Department of Medicine is an effective training facility for medical students, surgeons, first responders and other medical professionals. Imagine the benefits of a flight simulator where pilots can learn without the danger of crashing a real aircraft. The simulation centre is equipped with examinations rooms, operating rooms, lifelike mannequins (some even ‘bleed’) to provide realistic training operations. The centre employs actors to play the roles of a patient’s family members, doctors and other people who might participate in a real-life medical emergency.  Thanks in part to the initiative of Claire Webster, a Certified Alzheimer Care Consultant, the simulation centre has added a program assist families and caregivers who are living with a family member with early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Claire has lived the traumatic and stressful life of a caregiver when she looked after her mother. The stress of trying to manage her roles of wife and mother, plus her duties as a caregiver took a heavy toll, eventually resulting in her own burnout. Following her mother’s passing, Claire was determined to see if she could establish a way of helping other caregivers. “There are many people like me who don’t seek help because they don’t know if it’s available… and they just try their best to cope silently.” Claire earned her accreditation as a Certified Alzheimer Care Consultant, and offers her services through her company, Caregiver Crosswalk Inc.

Working with Claire are Dr. Josée Morais and Dr. Serge Gauthier, both leaders in their respective fields. The doctors’ professional expertise is complemented by Claire’s real-life experience as a caregiver; making the trio a formidable team in helping patients and families.

Dr. Morais is the Director of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at McGill University, the MUHC and Jewish General Hospital. In addition to extensive experience in the field of aging, Dr. Morais is also Associate Director of Quebec Network for Research on Aging. He is a specialist in the positive effects of good nutrition physical activity in the aging process.

Dr. Serge Gauthier is a Professor in the Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Psychiatry, Medicine at McGill and Director of the Alzheimer Disease and Related Disorders Research Unit of the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging at the Douglas Hospital. In layman’s terms, Dr. Gauthier is a pioneer into research on dementia. While both are highly accomplished in their respective fields, they demonstrated an understanding of the need for practical training and support for caregivers.

In addition to the contribution of their medical knowledge and expertise in the multidisciplinary network; the participation of Dr. Morais and Dr. Gauthier brings an important credibility to the program. This is especially important to encourage the participation of institutional caregivers.

Claire approached the McGill’s Dean of Medicine in December 2016, proposing a pilot project to train caregivers. “The Dean was enthusiastic and onboard right away. Two and a half months later, we were on our way to designing and implementing the pilot project!”

Claire, Doctors Morais and Gauthier designed a training program for families and caregivers. A model apartment and kitchen were set up with one-way glass so the clinicians and family members could view the interaction between the actors and medical professionals. In one case, an actor playing a senior woman with early dementia is preparing to bake muffins for her adult daughter. Mistaking Lestoil, a toxic cleaning product, for cooking oil – the ‘mother’ has the bottle of cleaning product with the other ingredients for the muffins. The ‘daughter’ comes to the stark realization that her mom is not coping, and is in danger. For family members who may be at odds about whether or not their parent is capable – the role-playing scene is a stark and powerful illustration of what could be taking place when their parent is alone.

Similar enactments are available for banking issues, dressing, bathing and other day-to-day activities are compromised by mental confusion. “We are able to empower families when they see what can happen in this controlled simulation. It’s a race against time, and when they see the progress of the disease, they can plan for the future; states Claire.” She adds; “The simulation centre also can be used to train people working in retirement residences and care facilities – so that they are prepared before they face a real-life situation for the first time. We can reduce the cost on the health care system by preventing accidents, and by training caregivers to be better equipped with knowledge.”

The project has five subcommittees that include; Education, Communication, Financial, Research and Measuring the Impact.

Westmount Mayor Christina Smith has already sponsored a forum for Claire and her group to present Dementia Education Workshops To Support Caregivers, and more are planned for the future.

For more information about the Steinberg Simulation Centre at McGill and the good work being done there, please visit: or call: 514-398-8978. To contact Claire Webster at Caregiver Crosswalk Inc. please visit or call 514-968-4455.