Nfld. & Labrador

Artist's mural lessens the stress of residents with dementia at Labrador care home

The goal of Lester Burden's artwork at the Happy Valley-Goose Bay facility is to offer a cozy and welcoming touch.

Artist Lester Burden says the dog is the biggest hit of the artwork

The wall mural helps to disguise the entrance/exit into the protective-care unit at the Labrador Health Centre. (John Gaudi/CBC )

Residents at the long-term care facility in Happy Valley-Goose Bay are feeling more at home thanks to a new mural painted in the protective-care unit.

It looks like a cozy living room setting complete with a fireplace, some bookshelves, a comfy chair, even a Husky dog.

The approximately 7½-metre-long mural is painted onto the walls and the doors leading into the lockdown unit for residents with dementia and Alzheimer's at the Labrador Health Centre.

Rosalie Michelin, who sits on a hospital working group — set up to enhance the lives of residents at the facility — pitched the idea for a mural in protective care, and sent artist Lester Burden a sketch of what they wanted.

I put a lot of heart and soul into it.- Lester Burden

Burden says the husky is a big hit with residents.

"The husky dog was probably one of the last things to be painted and you could see the fingerprints on the back part of it, and so I had the idea they were reaching it to touch it," Burden said in an interview with CBC's Labrador Morning.

Artist Lester Burden hopes the mural gives residents suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's some comfort in the long-term care facility. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Burden says he gave the dog blue eyes so residents wouldn't be intimidated by it, adding that painting on the facility's windows and doors was a challenge given the framing and the mechanics of the site. 

He also painted symbols on the mural to reflect the cultures of Labrador.

Burden started working on the project in mid-December and, painting during the night, managed to complete it in early January. 

Less stress

Roland Hewitt, nursing site manager for Labrador Health Centre, says the goal of the mural is to make the facility less institutional, noting that it's already making a difference for residents with dementia and Alzheimer's.

"We have seen less wandering from our people in this unit. So to me, that's a great success as well as the esthetic look of it all," he said.

Hewitt says the mural disguises the entrance/exit into the protective-care unit, where it's critical to safeguard residents.

"They don't see this anymore as an exit way out, and in itself, that would tend to lessen their anxiety because on their mind, depending on the time of day it might be, exit-seeking is very common," he explained.

The husky is a highlight of the mural. (John Gaudi/CBC )

Hewitt says people with dementia try to exit a space they're in because they don't recognize it as their home; they try to seek out family members and things that are familiar to them.

After doing research on what benefits a mural would provide, he said, they found out that if a resident with dementia finds meaning in a piece of artwork, it helps their orientation in the facility.

Wanted to give back

Burden's father, who has dementia, lives in the seniors' home in Forteau.

The artist says he knows how hard it is to see loved ones deteriorate to the point of not recognizing family members anymore.

"I wanted to give back. I first-hand know the effects of dementia, Alzheimer's," Burden said. "I really wanted to give back to the residents in the home. I put a lot of heart and soul into it."

Nursing site manager Roland Hewitt, left, says the mural helps lessen anxiety for patients dealing with dementia. (John Gaudi/CBC )

Both residents and hospital staff are giving the mural glowing reviews, and dozens of comments on social media applaud its addition to the long-term care home.

Hewitt credits the ladies' hospital auxiliary group for funding the project, and hopes that there will be more opportunities for wall art at the facility down the road.

"It was an honour to do it," Burden says.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

John Gaudi

CBC reporter

John Gaudi reports from Happy Valley-Goose Bay for CBC's Labrador Morning.