Butterfly Program Transforms Dementia Care

Long term care for elderly adults with dementia is often a frightening experience that is made worse by strict schedules, impersonal care and a clinical environment.  But what if nursing homes didn’t have to operate like warehouses for people waiting to die?  What if small changes could bring joy and life back to seniors and give care workers a greater sense of meaning and satisfaction? 

Just such an overall change was recently embarked upon in Ontario and the journey of The Butterfly pilot project was documented by The (Toronto) Star and recently featured as the paper’s top story.  Upon completing it’s first year of implementation at Peel Region’s Malton Village, the project was found to be transformative for residents, staff and families.

Butterfly founder David Sheard has created 37 homes and projects in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia and the United States.  His approach turns dementia care on it’s head, shifting the focus away from efficiency to person-centered care which encourages staff to make physical and emotional connections with their patients.  The program also implements changes in living space; painting walls bright colors to visually separate one area from another and bring a familiar warmth to the surroundings.  And bringing in items that might spark joyful memories; a piano, baby dolls, games and soft blankets all help make long-term care facilities a little more like home.

With training, staff are instructed how to use emotional intelligence to prevent upsetting patients and foster a greater level of trust.  Care workers are taught to take a moment to understand what might be behind certain behaviors and use compassion and touch to calm patients, or even a little white lie followed by distraction.  Sitting down and talking while feeding an elderly adult with dementia, singing a familiar song or holding someone’s hand can have amazing results.  Humans all desire touch and social interaction and seniors with dementia are no exception.  A simple hello, a smile and a hug can alleviate fear and stress resulting in fewer incidences of violence and less need for medication.  Staff trained in this method also report greater satisfaction with their job and logged fewer sick days after the Butterfly program was implemented.

Along with a vastly different approach to dementia patient care by staff, the Butterfly program also physically separates people with more advanced dementia from those who are still active.  Smaller groups of people housed together with similar abilities creates less noise and less stress for seniors.   And for those who are still able, being involved in serving food, preparing a snack or playing cards enlivens residents who may have been withdrawn or bad-tempered. 

Read more about this innovation in dementia patient care here.