Murals helping residents feel more at home

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Health: Sheep River Health Trust funds art for long-term care facility

Residents in a long-term care facility in Black Diamond feel more at home since an artist added colour to the hallways.

A Calgary muralist was hired to create art depicting hanging pictures, plants, front entrances and windows looking out into yards in the halls, as well as café patios in the dining area and a brick front with a barber pole for the hair salon.

The Sheep River Health Trust is funding the $15,000 project, which began last year.

“It certainly adds more colour and life than a plain painted hallway,” said resident Dorothy Jackson. “They’re better than a plain wall that looks like a hospital.”

Dave Eckes, whose wife Ann has been in the Rising Sun Long-Term Care at Oilfields General Hospital for 12 years, said he and his wife enjoy the murals.

“I think they’re really nice,” he said, adding his wife had a rock motif painted on her door as per her request. “It really makes a difference. It doesn’t look so much like an institution.”

The initiative is called the Happy Optimal Meaningful Environment (HOME) project with a goal of creating a dementia-appropriate environment to reduce the feeling of institution and promote a home-like setting, according to Andrea Mitchell, executive director of Sheep River Health Trust.

“Our philosophy is that it should feel like home,” she said. “It’s that idea of defining spaces. We thought it was a great opportunity to make a huge impact on residents there. The doors to the residents’ rooms look like doors to the outside of a house.”

In the past decade, the health trust provided funds to the Rising Sun Long Term Care for a bus to transport residents, a new kitchen, a living and dining room area and a barbershop.

As for the HOME project, Mitchell said it began a year ago and is nearing completion with just a few murals left to do in one of the hallways.

“In the daily lives of the residents it makes a huge impact,” she said. “It’s huge for dementia patients to create that individualized space. It gives them an opportunity to trigger memories and it creates opportunities for conversations amongst others.

“We are trying to keep everybody as happy and as settled as possible.”

Long-term care facilities are typically not very lovely, said Mitchell, so she hopes to change that at the Rising Sun.

“It’s an opportunity for us to create a home-like environment so they feel they belong somewhere,” she said. “We want to create a nice setting for them. If patients are more secure there is less need for medical intervention.”

Carla Ralph, the long-term care site manager, came up with the idea of the murals to help the facility’s approximately 30 residents, about 80 per cent of whom have some form of dementia, feel more at home.

“The biggest thing is really understanding that folks with dementia make decisions based on feelings,” said Ralph. “They can no longer really verbalize what’s happening. All they’re left with is how something makes them feel.”

Ralph said typical behavior amongst people with dementia when feeling anxious or discomfort is often agitation, crying and calling out.

Since the murals were painted, Ralph said she sees less of that behaviour, or when the behaviour occurs staff will walk the residents down a hallway to look at the murals.

“It feels like walking down the street and you’re seeing some entrances to homes,” she said. “It’s familiar things you would see in a house versus a hospital like an antique dresser mounted into the wall and a mural around it – things they’re familiar with seeing in their homes and something that can trigger a response.”

Ralph said the images also reduce a sense of boredom and desire to leave that some residents experience and, instead, evoke feelings of safety and security.

“For those residents who are very interactive, a lot of them have been very excited about the project,” she said. “They’ve interacted with the muralist about the colour of the flowers or will say, ‘My place is the one with the red door.’ It’s created a lot of interest going down the hallway. There is more opportunity to engage in conversation with families and volunteers.”

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