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Practicum partner spotlight: Q & A with Ruth Brickman, Social Worker, Memory Link, Neuropsychology and Cognitive Health, Baycrest

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Founded in 1918 as the Toronto Jewish Old Folks Home, Baycrest continues to embrace the long-standing tradition of all great Jewish healthcare institutions to improve the well-being of people in their local communities and around the globe.

Baycrest is a global leader in research, innovation, education and care for older adults, with a special focus on brain healthand aging. It is home to a robust research and innovation network, including one of the world’s top research institutes in cognitive neuroscience, the Rotman Research Institute; the scientific headquarters of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, Canada’s largest national dementia research initiative; and the Baycrest-powered Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation, a solution accelerator focused on driving innovation in the aging and brain health sector.

Baycrest helps aging adults assess, monitor, maintain and enhance cognition through an innovative portfolio of evidence-based products and services offered through its brain health company, CognicitiFully affiliated with the University of Toronto, it provides excellent care for older adults combined with an extensive clinical training program for the next generation of healthcare professionals.

Through these initiatives, Baycrest has remained at the forefront of the fight to defeat dementia as our organization works to help individuals Fear No AgeTM and create a world where every older adult enjoys a life of purpose, inspiration and fulfilment.  

We spoke to alumna Ruth Brickman about her role as a social worker in Baycrest’s Memory Link Program, the practicum opportunities that Baycrest offers students, and her experience working with older adults.

photo of Ruth BrickmanHow long have you worked at Baycrest and what is your current role there?

I have been the social worker with the Memory Link program for 15 years, but I first began working at Baycrest in 1993, when I was a new MSW graduate! Within the interprofessional Memory Link team, I help to facilitate the intake process for our clients, who experience moderate to severe memory challenges after an Acquired Brain Injury. I assist clients and their family members in accessing a wide variety of resources in the community, provide short-term supportive counselling to clients and family members and facilitate a weekly support group for our clients. I also facilitate support groups for the spouses/partners and the families of our clients.

My previous roles at Baycrest include working in Coordinated Client Services, where I mostly helped facilitate admissions to our Adult Day Programs. And I also worked for a year in the Apotex Centre, Jewish Home for the Aged. My personal connection to Baycrest goes back much further, as my grandparents and several other members of my extended family have spent time living here, in either the Hospital; the Apotex Centre, Jewish Home for the Aged or Baycrest Terraces (our retirement home). And, my father and my mother-in-law have each been dedicated Baycrest volunteers.

What is the Memory Link Program and how does it work?

Memory Link is a unique outpatient service established to assess, train, and support adults with memory difficulties that can occur after a neurological event (e.g. aneurysm, stroke, focal traumatic brain injury) that causes damage to memory structures of the brain. Memory Link taps into preserved memory systems and thinking skills to teach individuals to use external memory aids. Memory Link is not intended to address memory problems related to progressive neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease or Fronto-Temporal Dementia.

How does your role as a social worker intersect with the work Baycrest’s other health professionals and research initiatives?

Unlike most other programs and services at Baycrest, the Memory Link program serves adults of all ages. However, our work is closely aligned with Baycrest’s role as a leader in research and innovation with a special focus on brain health and aging. Memory Link is part of the Neuropsychology and Cognitive Health program, which provides clinical services, education and training and clinical research related to the assessment and treatment of memory and other cognitive abilities in older adults. Research and program evaluation are strongly encouraged and are an integral part of the work we do to ensure we’re best meeting the needs of our clients.

I am privileged to work alongside a world-class team of Neuropsychologists and other clinicians with a deep expertise in memory and cognition. I am also extremely fortunate to be a part of an exceptional Social Work team at Baycrest, with colleagues connected to a wide variety of inpatient and outpatient programs that serve older adults and the wider community. This includes providing specialized services for Holocaust survivors and their families.

Could you tell us about the practicum opportunities you offer FIFSW students?

I have always felt that Memory Link offered a very rich learning opportunity for FIFSW students. They are able to get to know the unique population that we serve and the range of community programs and services for those who have experienced an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), as well as the needs of ABI caregivers (including spouses/partners, young-adult children, parents and siblings). Because we run an ongoing, open-ended weekly client support group, MSW students are able to develop meaningful clinical relationships and have the opportunity to transition from observing to co-facilitating support groups through the course of their practicum.

I work part-time, and have therefore usually shared supervision with one of my social work colleagues at Baycrest. Often this means that our student shares their time learning within the Memory Link program and another area of Baycrest, such as the Apotex Centre, Jewish Home for the Aged or Learning the Ropes for those living with Mild Cognitive Impairment. This allows our students to develop a wide variety of social work practice skills, gaining an even deeper understanding of memory challenges that can impact clients and their families at any age or stage.

What advice do you have for someone who is considering becoming a Field Instructor?

I would definitely encourage any social worker to become a Field Instructor! I find it incredibly rewarding to help guide an MSW student as they develop their clinical skills. I can genuinely say that being a Field Instructor makes me a better clinician. I need to think about why I am doing what I do in my clinical social work practice, so that I can better share and instruct. And each MSW student brings their own lived experiences and education to their practicum, so that I am continually enriched by their insights and curiosity.

What do you find most rewarding or invigorating about working with older adults?

I have always been drawn to working with older adults. It is especially rewarding to be able to listen to and learn from people who are unfortunately often overlooked or ignored in our society. We cannot underestimate the social work skill of empathetic listening, conveying to those we’re trying to help that we hear them and appreciate their unique needs and perspective. This sense of the importance of listening to and advocating for the older adults we most often see at Baycrest is extended to our Memory Link clients, as adults with amnesia following an ABI (at any age) can similarly feel invisible or misunderstood by others. I find it incredibly meaningful to be able to help our clients find new meaning and hopefulness in their lives following a devastating and life-changing health event.

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