Just over a year ago, I was involved in painting murals for a specialist dementia unit. This was a transitionary home, where patients stayed for upto a year. So as you can imagine, this carried with it particular problems, as no one was there long enough to really get to know the place. Residents were continually getting lost and not able to find where they needed to be, sometimes with disastrous consequences. 30 murals were painted around the home and combined with colourful visual signposting to help with navigation and aid independence. The Council made detailed assessments of the home before and after the murals were added and some of the findings in the report are below.
The types of improvements seen included increases in the number of residents able to:
- Find their own way to the toilet and use it without significant assistance
- Find their own way to their bedroom without asking a staff member for direction
- Spend more time outside of the traditional confines of the main home environment
- Engaged in the activity programme and an increase in the activities on offer across the week.
- Score satisfied or higher on satisfaction questionnaires
Further improvements included a reduction in the number of residents:
- Distressed wandering and repetitive statement of wanting to leave the home
- Slips trips and falls in the home
- Incontinence associated with not finding or being able to use the toilet
Whilst the impact can be difficult to assess, feedback confirms the following;
- More residents eat meals in dining room and the atmosphere is tangibly more relaxed
- Prior to new lounge residents clustered in hall and frequent disagreements over the few chairs available
- Residents who don’t want to watch television use new lounge – very popular relaxed space.
- More capacity for hosting activity and entertainers
- Resident’s relatives report noted improvement in environment and enjoy walking with residents.
- Tea rooms increasingly being used for afternoon tea and activities
In addition to this, much anecdotal evidence as to the benefit of murals for the residents, staff and visitors has been recorded. One resident reported that one particular mural reminded her of a place that she used to go as a child. Sitting and looking at this mural every morning made her feel less anxious and happier. Staff confirmed that her medication was reduced as a result. Another was talking excitedly to her visitors about the mural in her room, which was of the town where she grew up. She was able to engage in animated conversation about the things she did and the places she went as a child, which made the visiting process much more fun for all parties. Staff report less pacing up and down the corridors and more socialisation and engagement with both staff and other residents.
The combination of visual signposting and the creation of relaxing areas with distinctive themes is a powerful combination and has enormous benefits for all concerned. For those of us involved in improving the lives of dementia sufferers through improvements in the immediate environment, this report provides the evidence that we have been observing every day.