Butterfly Care Homes: An Emotional Model for Long Term Care

Posted by Lauren Johnson on May 9, 2019

In this technologically advanced, highly rational world we’ve created in the 21st century, emotions can sometimes take a back seat. Our culture is so good at making things happen in timely ways that businesses and social security systems alike will often use benchmarks like efficiency and consistency to determine the success of a program or idea.

Oftentimes, this works perfectly well. Business, science, technology and engineering are fields where cold, hard, logical results are not only useful but necessary. When it comes to caring for people, however, logic does not always prevail. Human beings are not only rational, we are also caring and spontaneous and emotional, which is why large scale systems like health care and social services are often the most expensive and least “efficient” in our society.

When human care is regulated in bureaucratic and highly organized, measured ways, it doesn’t always lead to the best outcomes. Long term care is one of the best examples of this. Seniors living with either physical or mental barriers have complicated issues to deal with. The realities of needing assistance for basic day to day tasks can feel humiliating and confusing, understandably so, and the care needs for such individuals will be far from straightforward. A rigid, unchanging framework of activities, split into 30 or 60 minute blocks, means that every single resident receives the same care at the same time in the same place. Freedom and creativity and flexibility are impossible in such a system, and it means that if someone needs more or less time for a particular activity or process, they won’t get it.

Such an unchanging system of seniors’ care wouldn’t make sense in a free-flowing, connected and dynamic space like Westman Village, so when Jayman BUILT was devising the best way to incorporate seniors with higher care demands into the Village, they discovered a revolutionary care model called Butterfly Care Homes. Butterfly Care is now the key component of Jayman’s Memory Care program at Westman Village, and a system of care designed around positive emotional communication.

Basically, Butterfly Homes were designed by their creator Dr. David Sheard to create a vibrant, colourful place for people with dementia to live in a caring, nurturing environment. Unlike a conventional care facility where people with advanced needs are segregated into clinical, sterile environments, Butterfly Homes like the one at Westman Village bring positive feelings and all of the rich vibrancy of the world to the people receiving care.

The basis of this idea is that when dementia sets in, logic and reason cannot be relied upon in the same way as earlier in life. What remains are people’s emotions and feelings, so according to Sheard and us here at Westman Village, nurturing positive emotional experiences is the best way to encourage high quality of life.

When emotional intelligence and positive experiences are the priority for caregivers, the result is interactions based on human, face to face connection rather than clinical application of procedures. In a Butterfly Care Home, caregivers do not wear uniforms but rather their casual clothing or even pajamas if it is night time and everyone is settling in to sleep. The colours on the walls are bright and vibrant, not only to create a sense of childlike wonder and happiness, but also to provide clear contrast to individuals with spatial issues. This way, they can more easily navigate the facility to get where they need to be.

Residents in a Butterfly Care Home will be placed in groups based on their stage of dementia. Sheard and the program understand that different individuals will be in different stages of dementia, which can lead to confusion or stress. Individuals who feel more active will be together, while those with mobility issues and who are more advanced in their condition will be in their own group.

Such changes create a focus on the inner experience of each individual. As mental processes degrade with Alzheimer’s or dementia, oftentimes the most functional remaining part of the brain relates to the most primal, emotional elements of a person. As their cognitive abilities decline they may resort to living their lives based on their most intense retained memories, good or bad, which means their world is confined to their individual person rather than living in the larger world around them.

If caregivers then focus on creating emotionally intuitive interactions with such people, there won’t be any feelings of intrusion or defensiveness or fear, which can sometimes occur if a caregiver must give a certain treatment at a certain time or if they are under pressure. When the model changes, and success for a program is based around a person’s ability to interact with their environments in a positive way rather than on jumping through hoops, people will rest much easier. If loved ones are in a place that cares for them as people with spirit inside them, rather than simply bodies needing physical sustenance, their families will benefit accordingly.