This mechanic's garage and nursery help dementia patients feel at home in long-term care

Sunnyside long-term care home in Kitchener has transformed one of its wings into a colourful village, as part of a new approach to caring for people with dementia

Kitchener's Sunnyside Home is exploring new approach to help residents with dementia

The hallways of the Buttonworks wing at Sunnyside Home are painted in bright colours to appeal to residents with dementia. Each door is also a different colour, to help residents recognize their rooms. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

The Buttonworks wing at Kitchener's Sunnyside Home doesn't look like a typical long-term care home.

The walls are painted in bright, eye-catching shades of purple, blue and orange. The dining room is furnished with 1950s formica tables and an old jukebox.

Down one hallway is a mechanic's garage, complete with work bench, can crusher and license plates. Another hallway has a nursery, where residents can look after baby dolls.

This colourful village-like atmosphere is all part of Sunnyside's new approach to caring for people with dementia.

The 1950s-themed dining room is one of the most popular areas for residents to gather and socialize. The space also offers reminders from the residents' past, including an old-school jukebox. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

The goal is to help residents feel more comfortable and at home, while at the same time reducing staff burnout.

"It's been really touching to see … these changes, not only to the physical environment but in the way that staff are interacting with one another and residents are interacting with one another —  it really has created that feeling of community and that feeling of home," said Lindsay Marinovic co-ordinator of fundraising and promotional events for seniors' services with the Region of Waterloo, which runs Sunnyside Home.

The nursery is one of several interactive areas. Lindsay Marinovic says the residents have really connected with the baby dolls and enjoy caring for them. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

The changes have already had a positive impact on many residents, including Anne MacGregor's husband, Wayne.

Wayne was diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2012 and moved into Sunnyside in 2018.

"When we go by certain areas he says, 'Oh like it here, that's so beautiful,'" Anne said. "The flowers and the waterfall in the patio and all those things. He really likes that and it makes him comfortable."

Wayne has also bonded with a robotic therapy cat. The mechanical pets are used at Sunnyside to help calm people with dementia and provide a sense of companionship.

Wayne MacGregor is one of the residents on the Buttonworks wing at Sunnyside Home. His wife Anne says the bright colours and interactive spaces make Wayne feel comfortable and at home.

"He was always an animal lover, so when we found out he liked the cat, we bought one for himself and he goes everywhere with it," Anne said.

Sunnyside Home plans to measure the impact of the changes by looking at depression rates, social engagement and the use of antipsychotics among residents.

It also hopes the new model will help reduce sick time and improve job satisfaction for staff working in the wing.

The flower box was one of the first interactive spaces introduced by Sunnyside Home. Residents can pick flowers from the nearby "garden" and place them in the flower box — or use the flowers to decorate their rooms and common areas. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

In the meantime, Marinovic said they plan to replicate Buttonworks wing in other parts of Sunnyside.

"Some of the next things that we're hoping to do here on Buttonworks is to bring in some more items that are personal to the people who live here — photographs, items that really connect people to their past," she said.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.