The Locks come off a ‘Secured’ Neighbourhood

Riverside Glen sees greater integration with the Mapleton barriers removed

When the Mapleton team at The Village of Riverside Glen first approached Ann Perets to discuss the possibility of removing the keyed-access locks on the neighbourhood’s doors, she admits to feeling a little anxious.   

Harry, a resident at Riverside Glen sitting on the couch
 Harry is one of the Mapleton residents from
Riverside Glen who now enjoys the freedom to
venture beyond what were once locked doors.

When her husband Harry moved into the village in early 2015, he joined what was to be a “secured” neighbourhood for people who are living with dementia. Ann naturally worried that Harry would be at risk if he could simply get up and walk out the village’s front doors into the wider community where he’d have trouble navigating. Ann was not alone in her worries – when first approached with the idea, other loved ones and even some team members were skeptical, but with steady conversation and discussion, the fears subsided and in January the Mapleton doors were officially unlocked.

A few months later, Ann says the new system is better for Harry because his dementia has progressed to the point that he doesn’t actively seek to leave his surroundings and yet, he likes to walk. Now he has more space to do so and an entirely new group of team members and residents to connect with if he chooses to leave Mapleton. It’s not uncommon for Anne to arrive for a visit and find him relaxing in a different neighbourhood with a drink or a snack in hand.  

The fact that Harry can choose: this is what team members say was the driving force behind the pursuit of a barrier-free neighbourhood. Yes, Harry and his fellow neighbourhood residents live with dementia, but should that automatically mean they lose all control of where and when they can move beyond their neighbourhood? 

Assistant general manager Kim Sutherland says before making the change, team members worried that a flood of residents from Mapleton would race beyond the doors into other neighbourhoods and beyond. Instead, more residents from outside have chosen to venture in, creating an interesting dynamic.

For the team, growing accustomed to the new reality meant reshaping their understanding of risk and worry. One of their central roles is to ensure safety and security for everyone in the village, which hasn’t changed at all. But it wasn’t that long ago that the team would panic if a resident managed to get beyond the locked door, despite the fact that several additional locked passages existed and a capable team of colleagues were there to help out. They had to deeply examine among themselves and families the question of whether or not that panicked reaction was truly necessary?

“People were so nervous about it and if a resident walked out, everyone would panic and quickly encourage them to go back in,” Kim recalls. “Now we say, ‘why not?’ and it’s been great. We have residents on Mapleton who will come and sit in the Eramosa neighbourhood and the Arthur neighbourhood. They’ll enjoy programs there that they may not have and vice versa, so it’s been a really interesting integration.”

There is more awareness outside the neighbourhood among fellow team members and families and Kim points out that the risk of a resident actually leaving the building unassisted is still very low, for they would have to pass other security measures. Ann says this is a major reason why she is comfortable with the new reality and with Harry accessing different areas of the village. The fact is, in the months since unlocking the doors, there have been no additional concerns while the benefits of greater autonomy, choice and connectedness among residents have grown.

Neighbourhood coordinator Luke Denomme, who actively pursued the idea of removing the locks for more than a year, said the smiling faces of residents as they explored their neighbouring communities in those early days “was an amazing experience.”

Now it’s simply the new normal, and the village is better for it.