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New approach to dementia care takes flight at Villa Marie

December 17, 2015

Villa Marie is taking a bold new step in dementia care. It is one of three supportive living sites in Canada piloting the Butterfly Project.  

The Butterfly Project is an approach pioneered by the British organization Dementia Care Matters. Its founder David Sheard says everyone needs to start approaching people with dementia as feeling beings not thinking beings.

“We have to stop focusing on thoughts and facts and logic and reason and get rid of all this,” says David Sheard, Founder, Dementia Care Matters. “We have to focus on the fact that great dementia care is great emotional care. Accept people where they are. We can’t fix dementia, but we can fix our approach.”

Villa Marie’s dementia cottage will receive a makeover. It will become a lot more colourful and be filled with items such as bags, boas and tool kits to keep the residents engaged. The open spaces will be made more intimate and staff will be fully integrated; they will wear their everyday clothes and eat and socialize with the residents like an extended family. 

Valeria Porter and Andria Sahli visit their loved one Dorothy Bartley at Villa Maria in Red Deer. Dorothy will be among the first residents in Canada to benefit from a new approach to dementia care called the Butterfly Project.

Valerie Porter’s 89-year-old mother Dorothy Bartley is deaf and can no longer walk or talk, but still gets a sparkle in her eye with the right stimulation.

“If somebody sat down with a fuzzy pair of pajamas she would enjoy playing with them,” says Valerie Porter, Dorothy’s daughter. “Right now she has great food and physical care at Villa Marie; it is whatever is going on inside of her we have to figure out, she needs the interaction the Butterfly Project will bring.”

The first step to get the program going is staff training. David says staff need to understand how emotional memories work and it starts with self-reflection.

“People working in dementia have to tap into their own emotional life journeys,” says David. “You have to be able to understand with emotional intelligence your own life in order to reach somebody else’s in the past.”

Traditional dementia care has caregivers correcting residents who are lost in their memories; the Butterfly Project approach respects where the residents are in their journey.

Andria Sahli was brought to tears when she heard her grandmother would benefit from the Butterfly Project.

“I am very excited, but it gets my heart a bit because I wonder if she had this sooner, she (her grandmother) might not be as far gone,” says Andria Sahli, Dorothy’s granddaughter. “I really can’t wait for it to start and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”

The transformation at Villa Marie is underway. David Sheard will be back in April to check on the progress.