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Aged Care Plus: Journey of heart and soul

14 May 2020

Aged Care Plus: Journey of heart and soul

Emotional focus is making a huge difference in dementia care.

More than 400,000 Australians have some form of dementia ( That’s three in 10 people over 85, or nearly one in 10 people older than 65 (

So it makes sense to put time and money into caring for our older friends and relatives, but how do we do this best?

It’s one of the most challenging areas for both families of those afflicted and staff who care for them, and until recently the way to care for sufferers often invol­ved heavy medication.

But that’s not the Salvo way of caring for humanity, so The Salvation Army in Australia has adopted a British-based innovative care program for people suffering dementia, the Butterfly Household Program of Care (the Butterfly Program) developed by the UK organisation Dementia Care Matters. The Salvation Army acquired Dementia Care Matters in 2017.

This model of dementia care focuses on the emotions of people living with dementia, and was developed by British dementia care expert Dr David Sheard, who founded Dementia Care Matters in 1995 to start a global dementia care culture change. It’s an excellent fit for The Salvation Army aged care service as it has been adapted to the Christian values of the Salvos and the Australian lifestyle.

At the heart of the Butterfly Program is the training of carers to journey with people who have dementia in their reality—engaging with their memories. The atmosphere of daily life in aged care centres needs to have a ‘go with the flow’ more relaxed feeling, and the overriding concept is that residents’ feelings matter most. 

In the Butterfly Program, interior spaces of aged care facilities are refurbished to be full of colour and activity—replicating a small family household.

Residents are assisted to carry out normal daily living tasks by getting involved in domestic duties, including contributing to meal preparation, giving them a sense of purpose and greater freedom. They can do more for themselves and feel less restricted. Meals are shared with staff who wear everyday clothes, not uniforms, and who have undertaken emotional intelligence training to help them connect better with residents.

Aged Care Plus acting CEO, Carel Bothma explains that in the Butterfly Program, staff are responsive to individual residents and that the fixed routine of structured meal times, personal hygiene needs, and activities, has given way to living life based in the moment.

He says there have been signs of overall satisfaction of those living in homes with the Butterfly Household Program, with improved contentment and a reduced incidence of expressive behaviours.

When looking to commence a pilot program in Australia around two years ago Dementia Care Matters received more than 45 enquiries about the program from residential aged care organisations interested in becoming Butterfly Dementia Care Homes. Out of this The Salvation Army has been at the forefront of this new groundbreaking care program in Australia, and in 2016 commenced pilot programs in Aged Care Plus Centres in Chapel Hill (Qld) and Narrabundah (ACT). 

One of only two Australian aged care providers to be selected by Dementia Care Matters to implement the internationally award-winning Butterfly Household Program of Care, The Salvation Army has embraced the new model that is guided by each resident’s interest, feelings and emotions—truly a revolutionary new approach.

Since commencing the new care model, the need for psychotropic medication at the ACT’s Mountain View Aged Care Plus Centre fell by 33%, while at Queensland’s Chapel Hill facility, usage of these medications dropped by 10%. Similarly, the number of falls suffered by residents at Mountain View decreased by 85%, while at Chapel Hill there was a drop of 67%.

Mr Botha says the incredible results prove that a person-centred model is most effective when caring for people living with dementia.

“Focusing on feelings and tailoring the care approach to meet that individual’s unique needs is at the heart of the program. We have replaced task-oriented care routines with relaxed home-like experiences, and the staff implementing the program are considered to be family,” he explains.

“The benefits of this emotional connectivity have had a significant impact on the physical, psychological and social wellness of people living with dementia,” he explains.

Families of residents have also been impressed by the improved quality of life of residents, with one commenting that the residents feel they are welcomed into a new home and are no longer bored or reserved.

Aged Care Plus hopes to help transform the aged care landscape by becoming the benchmark in dementia care in Australia.

While Mr Botha says the journey has only just begun, The Salvation Army is already disturbing the present to better the future for people who are misunderstood by society, resulting from diagnosis of dementia.

“Show respect to the person with white hair. Honour an older person and you will honour your God” (Leviticus chapter 19, verse 32). 

This article was first published in the Australia War Cry.


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