This month, as we observe World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21, we are proud to showcase the incredible efforts and great strides we are making to ensure those living with dementia, or any form of cognitive decline, are living their best possible lives in our communities. Below is an example of how Walden Heights has implemented a vital component of our Dementia Strategy by creating meaningful spaces for residents.
For some, home is a place. For others, home is a feeling. At AgeCare, we think it’s both, and we are undertaking an exciting initiative to make our spaces even more meaningful and therapeutic.
Providing residents with warm and welcoming spaces that promote dignity and independence is part of the Engaging Vibrant Communities pillar of our dementia model. With mindful attention to sight, sound, and smell, the dementia neighbourhood at AgeCare Walden Heights is being designed to feel like a collection of homes within an outdoor village rather than a clinical or institutional setting. This theme will offer many important sensory components and resonate with many of our residents, particularly those who are passionate about nature and the outdoors.
The idea began when we were looking for ways to reduce resident wandering behaviour, which is a common trait of those living with dementia. It’s difficult to claim your personal space or feel at home when your space looks the same as everyone else’s. Hence, we will make each resident’s ‘home’ identifiable by painting their door in a different colour and style (so they appear like brick or siding) and by placing a distinct ‘porch’ light outside their room. The vision is the appearance of a row of homes rather than a hallway.
“For many residents, their lingering sharpness is sensory appreciation — what they see, smell, hear, and touch,” explains Ken Swift, Social Worker at AgeCare and member of the Engaging and Vibrant Communities working group. “How do we appeal to that? How do we make this a community they want to be a part of? And if they do wander, how can we make sure they encounter something meaningful to them?”
Work on this innovative environment was put on hold during the pandemic as contractors were unable to come into our spaces. Best-practice research and planning has continued, however, and the impact of some COVID-related measures has influenced plans for the future.
“During the first waves of COVID we had to pause some of our dementia strategy work to keep residents safe in their living environments. However, when we saw the negative impact of these pandemic-related changes — such as removing favourite couches in common areas because they couldn’t be sanitized — we knew our approach moving forward needed to guard against that type of disruption to our residents in the future,” says Glenda Boc, AgeCare Sagewood Administrator and Chair of the Engaging and Vibrant Communities working group.
Now, safe and engaging ways for residents to connect with their pasts and each other continue to be developed with plans in place for transforming the TV lounges into a drive-in movie theatre with a large drop-down movie screen, ‘parking stalls’ for wheelchairs and a mural of a drive-in movie theatre on the walls.
Some components are already in place. A mural of Lake Waterton camouflages the elevator on the floor. Many residents enjoyed asking the artist questions while he painted, and some even joined in the painting. Not only is it a beautiful and recognizable scene, but it also makes the elevator buttons less noticeable to discourage residents from wanting to wander from the floor.
With sound and smell being strong sensory ties to our memories, we sing residents’ favourite songs with them to promote calmness during personal care time, and we bake bread every morning on the floor to whet waning appetites through the smell wafting through the halls.
A guiding compass to ensure project planning is propelled by kindness and compassion, the working group continually asks themselves if they would want to live here. Adds Boc, “Our residents deserve a beautiful and thoughtful space that is comforting and tailored to them. We look forward to continuing work to make that innovative environment a reality.”