In the Village of Arbour Trails where the two main streets in Emma’s neighbourhood converge, Heather Luth sits upon a chair holding a large flash card with a simple, clear drawing of a milk bottle upon it. Several residents and a couple of team members are gathered around telling stories from the past, prompted by simple questions related to a bygone era when the milkman delivered bottles like this to the homes of these very residents.
In Emma’s neighbourhood here, as in every Schlegel Villages retirement setting, residents live with the most significant of changes in memory and cognition, most often associated with progressing dementia. It is false to think they are unable to recall the past, however; meaningful interaction can occur in the simplest of ways in Emma’s, and the milk bottle flash card shows how effortless such interaction can be.
As Schlegel Villages’ dementia program coordinator, Heather is visiting Arbour Trails this day to oversee the installation of a new design element in Emma’s meant to inspire this type of interaction with residents. Thoughtful Design is one of five central pillars in the organization’s LIVING in My Today dementia support program and the two custom-made wall collections installed today are examples of how the organization is strategically looking for ways to support residents who are living the dementia journey.
Each street in Emma’s is a corridor lined with the suites of residents. Outside each door is a familiar picture of each person, a helpful reminder of who lives in each room. Lovely art has always adorned the walls here, chosen because it seems aesthetically pleasing to the eyes of those who design the décor, but in truth it wasn’t necessarily appealing to those who make their home in Emma’s. It was confusing for some residents, in fact: busy splashes of colour that offer more by way of distraction than anything else.
The new custom wall collections being installed today offer simple, yet vivid single-focus images related to nature in one collection and travel in the other. These sections of the walls are meant to be destinations along the corridors, something to look at, understand and spark conversation. In the nature collection, for example, a large snowman covers much of the space with smaller images connected to the winter season spaced evenly around it. In the travel section, a large global map is the focal point and the images surrounding it conjure thoughts of distant places. In addition, each section has a collection of post cards hanging on the wall and if residents are so inclined, they’re welcome to take them and use them as they see fit.
The images are easily interchangeable, meaning that every so often the teams can add new colour and life into the space; they can transition from winter to spring, for example, to ignite new potential for conversation.
As Rob and Ryan from trusted community partner Fast Signs in Kitchener complete the final installation, Heather and the Emma’s team huddles around one of the new displays discussing the potential it has to enhance interaction.
“We had some of the residents join us for our huddles,” Heather says, “drawn down the hall by the vibrant pictures, and it was instantly engaging. It’s our hope that these installations will create memorable breaks in our hallways that assist with independent and supported way-finding, while at the same time creating a destination where people can engage visually in conversation and in reminiscing together.”
Just as the milk bottle inspired conversations of the past, a conversation between Heather and a resident named Lorna springs up about making snowmen as they look at the nature display together. The interaction emerged effortlessly, sparked by a clear image on a wall – a sign that the new design element is already working as it was intended at Arbour Trails. Other villages will soon follow suit as LIVING In My Today take flight throughout 2019.