Graham and Fabricius found that six months after the murals were painted, staff from the two dementia units reported that exit-seeking behavior had declined among residents. With the transparent window panes in doors obscured, residents were less likely to peer through and try to catch the attention of people on the other side. Additionally, a nurse noted that the mural at her unit was particularly effective with new patients who hadn’t seen the door before it was painted, and may not have realized it was an exit. There were also fewer incidents of residents pulling fire alarms, thus decreasing the stress that follows such an event. And in addition to these positive outcomes, Graham and Fabricius say that the mural-making process is just as beneficial as the final product.
While Fabricius creates the murals, it becomes a participatory art project for residents. “I like them to be part of the process,” she explained, noting that she’ll set up chairs for them to watch, engage them in discussion, or give them sandpaper or other tools to help out.
Whether or not they recognize Fabricius, she continued, the residents are drawn to seeing the artwork in progress, and are prone to watch her work or give her feedback; those residents who do laps around the unit tend to stop by to rest. In some cases, the art awakened deep memories among residents: One woman told Fabricius about her wedding flowers, which were then painted into a mural, and a man recalled an athletic trophy he had won, which was painted onto a shelf.
Fabricius acknowledges that the mural painting process is a compelling way of getting residents involved in art, even if they’re not physically painting. “Some would sit and remark on where I’d missed a spot, or where it wasn’t level,” she explained. “I’m able to engage with them; they’re not just sitting in the dining room, or in their room, or staring at a TV. I’m able to give live entertainment, really—that includes them.”