COVID-19 restrictions had meant that the need for a fresh lick of paint had been abandoned.
But for Theresa Ezold, an aged care worker at Uniting Farmborough Residential Aged Care, NSW, this inconvenience inspired a bold new plan to transform the entrance of the home’s Memory Support Unit.
A painter in her free time, Ezold embarked on a three month project, with the help of residents, to adorn the walls with two life-like murals.
Ezold tells Aged Care News that she was inspired by the joy residents expressed at the sight of one her small paintings, depicting a beach scene.
“I brought that in and showed some of the residents and they said ‘that’s good, it looks like you can just walk out into it’.
“I thought: ‘OK, maybe something like that but bigger would be good.”
Thus, Ezold set out to recreate the beach scene across a full wall of the Memory Support Unit.
Notably, she depicted the beach scene with a clear railway, encouraging residents to engage with the scene without being inclined to ‘walk into’ the painting and inadvertently hurt themselves.
“I have seen a resident actually walk up to the painting and rest her hand on the [painted] rail.”
“It really transports residents into another place and time.”
The second mural depicts an Australian bush scene, with peaceful additions such as a waterfall and a variety of birdlife.
Residents were encouraged to be a part of the creative process for this scene, helping to prepare the wall for paint and adding a variety of decals to the painting’s foreground, such as birds, butterflies and flowers.
“I think that gave them a bit of ownership,” Ezold says.
She says that the decorated doorway has helped to calm residents, reducing the sense of alarm often caused by the heavy, closed door.
“They will stop before they actually get to the door to want to get out and look at this waterfall, look for something in there, like a butterfly.
“It sort of distracts them from wanting to bang on the door and get out.”
Catering to persons living with dementia, Ezold says its important for facilities to carefully consider elements of murals design, so as not to depict anything that could frighten or overstimulate residents.
“I had to be very careful what little animals I added to it.
“Some of [the residents] suggested a snake. I thought, ‘no… others would be fearful of a snake or a spider’.”
Ezold hopes that her project will help inspire similar projects in residential aged care homes across Australia.
“With residents getting involved, it can be a great activity so give it a go,” she says.
To add weight to the benefits of the mural initiative, it is backed by an emerging body of scientific research.
A 2019 study from the University of Canberra points to the positive effect engagement with art can have on the mental health of those living with Alzheimer’s disease.
As anecdotally observed by Ezold, the research suggests that frequent engagement with the visual arts can decrease symptoms of depression and increase working memory and verbal fluency.