Calgary

Why doors are painted to look like bookshelves and nooks at this seniors centre

One door has been painted to look like a bookshelf. Another, a nook with a lamp. The artistic innovation serves a serious purpose at a seniors home in Sundre, Alta.

Exit doors painted to mimic interior of home so residents with dementia don't wander outside

Painted doors 0:45

One door has been painted to look like a bookshelf. Another, a nook with a lamp. The artistic innovation is meant to ensure the safety of residents who have dementia at seniors home in Sundre, Alta.

The painting of some exit doors at Sundre Seniors Supportive Living adds a layer of security along with a warmer feel, said resident care manager Tim Sawyer.

Staff hope the doors will prevent dementia patients from wandering outside unattended.

Tim Sawyer is the resident care manager at Sundre Seniors Supportive Living. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

"We wanted to create a homier environment for them because the transition to facility living can be challenging for some," Sawyer said.

"They could either be coming from other facilities or they could be coming from their home. It's not uncommon to have people with dementia to have increased anxiety, especially when transitioning into a facility such as this, so we wanted to emulate those homes and try and reduce those anxious feelings in our residents."

Artist Glen Collin was hired to paint the doors. After sanding them and applying two coats of primer, Collin was ready to begin creating a scene.

"It's called an underpainting," he said. "It's like a drawing … it's like a sketch. In the old days you used to call it a cartoon."

Collin said he allows the scene to take its own shape.

"I think of this as painting something for my older brothers, or my older sister, and she would love flowers," he said.

Glen Collin works on a door at Sundre Seniors Supportive Living. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

"And my brother would like pictures of motorcycles and airplanes, 'cause that's the generation that's in here. They're only a few years older than me, so I think I could identify with what kind of things they would like."

Collin said the experience has allowed him to flex his artistic muscles in new ways.

"Normally when I paint, I paint really uptight, very highly rendered, highly realistic … but of course you can't do that here," he said. "You've got to get in here and get out of their way. So I'm working on developing this looser approach, which is really good for me, it's good practice."

Collin said the reactions he has received from residents and their families have made the work worth it.

The doors are painted to look like the interior of a welcoming home. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

"A gentleman came with his mom and he approached the door and says, 'Wow, look at that, is that ever cool.' He pointed it out to his mom and showed her the painting, and for me, that's what I wanted to take from it, that pleasure that other people get from it," he said.

"This is very personal, that's for sure. I wish I could have done something like this for my mom's ward."

The art is appreciated by staff members, too, Sawyer said.

"They want to be proud where they work and see that we are here supporting the residents and try to make the transition as easy as possible," he said. "So I'm hoping they're happy as well."

Artist Glen Collin paints a door to look like a shelf at a Sundre seniors home. The goal is to prevent residents with dementia from going outside unattended. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

With files from Julie Debeljak