By Lawrence Belanger
Local Journalism Initiative
The care and technical teams of the East Angus long-term residential care center (CHSLD) have completed a project meant to improve the quality of life in the protected unit of the CHSLD. The unit, which houses people with mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s, has been covered in wallpaper murals, and made over to include an occupational sewing and tool room. Speaking over the phone, Annie Dupuis, Manager of the CHSLD of East Angus, said the goal of the project was to help residents by “giving them a sense of space,” and to help keep them occupied during the day.
Murals depicting landscapes, farm animals, a vegetable market, a garage, a hair salon, a clothing store, and a diner line the unit. In a press release, health officials described it quickly taking on “a village feel,” during the installation, and that the benefits of this transformation on the residents were quickly noticed.
Residents in the center are reported to be enjoying the cosmetic additions and new rooms. “Immediately after the first mural was installed, the staff noticed major positive changes in our residents,” said Sophie Rodrigue, head of the protected unit.
According to the press release, residents talk more with staff and loved ones, and “discuss the murals or entertain themselves with the occupational stations”.
Although the murals were not made in direct collaboration with residents (Dupuis said such an arrangement wouldn’t be feasible given their conditions), the ubiquity of the scenes has nevertheless triggered memories among the residents. As they discuss the murals, “[resident’s] memories are coming back,” explained Dupuis, and they are talking about their experiences with staff and visitors.
The benefits on residents have been physical as well. According to the press release, in addition to reducing wandering, the improvements have also reduced boredom and even aggression in residents. They are “more peaceful, less anxious and more animated,” read the release.
“It wasn’t about beautifying the unit,” said Rodrigue. “It was about creating an environment that would foster positive behaviours in our residents.”
For example, each of the unit’s room doors were converted into different styles of home entrances. “It helps them remember where their doors are,” explained Dupuis, which prevents residents from accidentally entering the wrong room. For example, “one guy,” she recalled, “he knows his room is pink,” and uses that knowledge to ground himself and remember where to go home to.
Dupuis explained how the murals provide a means for families to connect with their loved ones during a visit. As part of their normal operations, when a new resident arrives, the CHSLD contacts their families and loved ones to talk about the history of the resident’s life, such as their favorite food, what they did when they were younger, and what they did in life.
Dupuis said that since residents are often suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and/or other behavioural problems, those in protected units of CHSLDs need “positive, supervised stimulation throughout the day.”
It can often be hard to hold a conversation with a loved one in a CHSLD unit. With the murals, “it helps families communicate with their parents,” she said, as the subject of the murals spurs memories in residents or as they discuss the mural itself.
The CHSLD’s care and technical teams, as well as community members, worked together to bring the project to fruition. “One of the particularities of this project is the commitment of the actors of our community who wanted to make the days of our residents more pleasant in a concrete way,” said Dupuis in the statement about the murals.
Financial assistance was provided by Desjardins, the Town of East Angus, the Town of Westbury, the Club des amis du domaine and the Fondation des CLSC et CHSLD du Haut-Saint-François. The murals are a combination of paintings and photographs, but all have a photorealistic quality, and are a sort of wallpaper that the CHSLD installed.
Similar murals are present in other facilities in the region, such as the Youville, Vill-Bonheur, and Weedon CHSLDs, as well as the health and social services center in Memphrémagog. Future mural projects are expected in the Argyll Hospital, as well as the Richmond and Sutton CHSLDs.