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Changing the Look of Long Term Care

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There will come a point in almost all our lives where we will need to relinquish the care of a loved one to more capable hands. For some this will mean seeking out a long term care (LTC) facility.
We will walk them into a new place that resembles a hospital. We’ll feel scared, they’ll feel scared, and the comforts of home will be limited.
But, what if we didn’t have to? What if we could take them into a very client care orientated home filled with the things of life, bright and inviting colours, and we knew without a doubt that they would spend time being reminded of happy memories, with lots of space to visit and beautiful sceneries?
This is the vision that Cindy Woodson, the care team manager for Swan Valley’s LTC facilities in Swan River and Benito sees with the Our Home Improvement (OHI) project she’s been busy trying to implement.
“It’s a slow moving machine but we’re not hiring a bunch of contractors to do a big over haul,” said Woodson. “We’re utilizing our own staff.”
The Minitonas Curling Club (MCC) was able to bring one more smile to light before ceasing operation as they donated the remaining funds in their account to the Swan Valley Health Facilties Foundation on Jan. 18 and Woodson immediately went to work planning the updates.
“The donation can go along way,” said Woodson. “The MCC came to me and asked what I would do with it. We talked about paint and wall murals and creating a home like environment and turning our LTC facility into a home where people can actually touch, feel, and smell things that remind them of home. Where the staff isn’t afraid to give everyone a hug and you can sit down and converse with them and it’s a real place of client-centered-care. We just really need to think about what we’re doing and what these people that live here would like to see.”
Currently the LTC facilities in Swan Valley are filled with beige walls, plain exit doors, colourless tile floors, bright lights, and limited visiting spaces. What Woodson has in mind is very different.
“In here we have residents’ rooms and we encourage people to bring in memorabilia like pictures for the walls and personal things to stimulate them but it’s only in their one little space and they don’t just live in their room,” said Woodson. “In everyone’s homes everything wasn’t beige and everything wasn’t sterile.
“I’m the culprit, I picked that beige. But, we need to move forward.”
Upon visiting the Malton Village LTC Home in Mississauga Ont., Woodson was struck with inspiration that has since changed the way she views LTC as a whole.
The Swan River Personal Care Home is just one of the three buildings that Woodson is hoping to upgrade. It was built in 1972 and while the bones of the building have been well maintained the inside that is home to 44 people on a regular basis is outdated and lacking the feel of home.
“We didn’t build these places thinking about client-centered-care,” said Woodson. “We built them because it was like a facility setting and it was traditional. We have nice hand rails, we worry about everybody’s safety, we’ve got good lighting because people with vision impairment need to see where they’re going. We tried to do our best with what we knew back in the day and put pictures of the community on the walls but with all the research done we’ve learned so much. So many patients are now coming to us with anywhere from mild to severe dementia so we need to think about that population.”
Patients with dementia see colours three hews lighter therefore the beige walls possibly look stark white to them and walking down a white hallway with white floors and white ceilings – everything would look the same.
“If I had dementia, even mild dementia, and I was a little forgetful, how would I know which one is my room?” she said noting the entrances to all rooms look exactly the same.
With dementia, stimulus is provided by lots of tactical things and happy memories can be invoked by material things.
“Everyone in here is usually between late 70s and 100s,” said Woodson. “So if you think about what kinds of things went on in their lives that would spark conversations, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Woodson’s plan is to have numerous walls throughout the centre covered with flowers and gardening supplies that the patients can touch and big murals that will invite them to stop and remember.
Colour blocking is also in the plans as research has shown great success with its uses.
“What they found with research is that sometimes people will pace and attempts to stop them can result in aggression and agitation,” said Woodson. “They can fall and sustain fractures. So, how do you stop the behaviour? They’re trying to go somewhere but they don’t know where. What they’ll do is take one section and paint it with a bright colour and switch colours at a new section.
“And what they found is that when the colour changed the pacing stopped. They would put some place to sit down at the break or hang something interesting on the walls that would spark memories. (Someone caring for them) could perhaps convince them to sit down, rest and engage in conversation. It would fire up positive memories, they would calm down, rest, and possibly be willing to eat or drink something. It reduces anxiety, reduces wandering and the risk of falls.
“We don’t need to knock out walls or anything, changes can be made easily with the structures we have now,” she continued. “It can’t be done over night but we really want to start moving forward. Client centre care is something we should all be doing and simple concepts like this we can do without paying a big commercial price.”
The bright and colourful walls, the memorabilia celebrating the residents’ lives, the murals covering the exit doors, and happy, smiling faces is the future that Woodson sees when she envisions what the three LTC facilities will look like in the near future – where anxiety is reduced, falls and aggression decrease, staff morale is through the roof and attendance is almost perfect.
Woodson is hoping that the improvement in the residents’ environment will also make things easier on the entire family.
“I want to make it comfortable for family members to come in, sit down and talk because that’s the best therapy there is,” she said. “I need the families support for this because it’s for them, as well as, their family members.
“Within LTC we learn something new everyday, and we continually look for ways to enhance services we provide. This project is a perfect fit.”
If you would like to donate to the OHI project you can reach Woodson by email at cwoodson@pmh-mb.ca.

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Jakki Lumax
REPORTER
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