A long-term care home in Calgary has embraced a revolutionary new way to house people with dementia that includes replacing the drab with the decorative.

“It’s a beautiful place to be,” Sandra Cody told CTV News from Intercare’s Southwood Care Centre in Calgary, where her 90-year-old father Fred now lives. “It’s bright, it’s colourful. It’s not institutionalized.”

The Southwood Care Centre is part of what has been dubbed the “butterfly movement.” Launched in Britain over two decades ago by a U.K.-based organization called Dementia Care Matters, the movement aims to be an antidote to the impersonal and unstimulating hospital-like environments of many long-term care homes’ dementia units.

“People don’t have to be in long-term care, locked up (and) given a behavioural management model,” Dementia Care Matters founder and CEO Dr. David Sheard told CTV News.

In essence, Sheard’s Butterfly Household Model of Care boils down to two simple steps.

The first is to replace cold, clinical hallways with bright colours and cheerful photos and to cover walls with items that trigger positive memories, such as sports equipment, vintage electronics and baby clothing. Residents are encouraged to touch, hold and play with the items.

“Lots of times when people have dementia, you’ll often hear them talking about -- especially the ladies -- talking about their babies,” Lydia Wright, the Southwood Care Centre’s site administrator, told CTV News. “They will have an emotional memory of a need to care for people.”

The next step is all about encouraging staff to take the time to emotionally connect with seniors with dementia.

“Just touching their hands and hugging them,” healthcare aide Norway Prestousa explained to CTV News. “You know, have a chat with them. And I always greet them and I always say, ‘Oh, I love you.’”

It’s a shift in thinking that has shown dramatic results. In the one-and-a-half years since the Calgary residence has adopted the butterfly model, staff report that residents gained weight, were less aggressive with staff, and fewer restraints were used and less anti psychotics prescribed.

Wright added that there were also general improvements in strength and wellbeing, as well as increased mobility

Such an environment, Cody added, has made her father happier.

“When we first arrived, it was like, ‘You have to take me home, I want to go home with you, I want to live with you,’” Cody said. “Now, it’s like, ‘I’ll see you in a couple of days, dad.’ ‘Okay, bye!’”

The Calgary home is just one of seven accredited Butterfly care dementia wards in Canada, with six located in Alberta and one in Ontario, though there are plans to expand such units across the country.

Butterfly Home Locations

Toronto Mayor John Tory is one such proponent of expanding the program. In an interview with the Toronto Star on Friday, Tory expressed his admiration for the program after touring the Peel Region Malton Village dementia unit.

Tory said that he’s told his staff to explore the idea of bringing the program to city-run nursing homes, ordering a full examination of the unit’s success.

With files from CTV’s medical affairs specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip