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Non-profit takes a colourful approach to dementia care

IOOF Seniors Home Inc. renovating secure dementia ward to add murals, colours and sensory experiences proven to improve patient and staff well-being

For a senior with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease who has moved into a secure long-term care facility, waking up confused in a strange place can be upsetting.

IOOF Seniors Homes in Barrie is hoping to change that.

The non-profit long-term care facility has recently undertaken a new renovation project for their Alzheimer’s and dementia wing – called Kempenfelt Court – and have decided to add elements that are in-line with a UK initiative called The Butterfly Project.

“We started researching the latest advancements in dementia care to see if there was anything we could incorporate,” said Ashley Frenette, assistant director of resident care.

While the Butterfly Project first made its way from the UK to Ontario as a pilot project in Peel Region in 2017, IOOF Seniors Home is the first long-term care home in Simcoe County to implement the ideas into their facility.

The project re-invents the aesthetic of secure wings by adding comforting and happy scenes to the walls, colours and sensory experiences all designed to instill a sense of calm for the residents, as well as the staff who work there.

Through a multitude of studies, the colours and themes chosen can improve mood and appetite of dementia patients.

“It’s been very successful, not just for improving the quality of the residents’ experience, but it’s also improved staffing ratios,” said Frenette. “In the UK, the staff turnover for that area improved. They found people were excited to come to work because it was a fun environment to work in.”

The scenes chosen for Kempenfelt Court includes murals of places that will be familiar to residents, including one of the Allandale Train Station, the Spirit Catcher and the Imperial Movie Theatre.

The ward transitions from murals of the city to murals of calming country scenes in the fall, spring and summer. The colour choices were made deliberately to signal to residents when they’re entering or leaving certain areas.

“We’re using real concepts from around the City of Barrie,” said Frenette. “The reason we’re doing different colours is, people who have dementia need to see the dimensions of vibrant colours to grasp the change. By breaking it up into different coloured areas, they’ll see the transition from the north to the south.”

“We’re creating a neighbourhood,” she said.

All the murals were designed by Frenette and Jillian Sliter, graphic designer and assistant of revenue development. They will be printed on vinyl so in the event they get scratched or damaged, a new mural can be printed and applied at minimal cost. Doors and elevators will also be covered in murals with designs such as hutches or fireplaces to discourage residents from trying to leave.

“Part of our mission here is to always provide the best care possible for those who need it the most,” said Micheline Robichaud, manager of revenue development at IOOF.

“By taking away that institutional feel, it provided a better quality of life,” said Robichaud. “When someone is confused and it’s all white walls and nurses uniforms and locks and gates – it’s terrifying.”

As the wing was due for renovations anyway, Robichaud says the board saw it as a perfect opportunity to bring The Butterfly Project to Barrie.

The IOOF Seniors Homes has a variety of facilities, from totally independent living for seniors with rent geared to income to rehabilitation facilities and long-term secure facilities including the Alzheimer’s and dementia wing.

As the IOOF is a non-profit facility, CEO Garry Hopkins says that can bring challenges when it comes to finding funding for projects, but that profiting is not a part of the IOOF mandate.

“One of the advantages of being a not-for-profit is, if we make a profit, it all goes back into our facilities and resident care,” said Hopkins.

Robichaud says the IOOF is always grateful for donations either of funding or in trade for help to renovate as the facility regularly finds itself coming up short on funds.

“I think it’s time we swallowed our pride and asked for help, because these projects really will have a huge impact,” she said.

Robichaud said the IOOF has a long wait list for beds, and the ongoing construction means that they aren’t operating at full capacity. With more donations and construction help, Robichaud says they could be making a bigger dent in their wait list.

“We could remove a year off the wait list,” she said.

If you’re interested in making a donation of funding or services to the IOOF Seniors Home, contact Robichaud at or call 705-728-2389 ext. 315.

To read more about The Butterfly Project pilot in Peel, click here.

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering County of Simcoe matters, education and features.
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