The Butterfly Approach and dementia care

Peel Region is among the first Long Term Care providers in Ontario to create Butterfly home areas, and the first to receive Butterfly Accreditation at our homes, Malton Village and Sheridan Villa. Working together with Meaningful Care Matters we create spaces that improve the well-being of the people living with dementia by using innovative, person-centred approaches to meet their complex care needs.

What do we mean by person-centred? It means doing more than just addressing clinical needs. It means connecting emotionally, which, due to dementia’s impact on logic and memory, can be a powerful way to connect with people in a meaningful way. It means making the house truly feel like home, a place we could welcome family and friends. By meeting people’s physical and emotional needs, we never forget they are complex, valuable, feelings-based people who can continue to live vibrant and full lives throughout their journey with dementia. This, to us, is how we become person-centred.

Our Butterfly home areas are a place of engagement, interaction, family and comfort. Staff are supported to connect emotionally with people and to build their understanding of cognitive and functional abilities across the different phases of dementia.

Our Butterfly home areas are more relaxed and home-like and strive to recreate the look, sound, feel, and smell associated with home or places of comfort. To support and value the connection to people’s lives, the home areas are filled with the “stuff of life” so that people can connect with a variety of colours, textures, and objects that reflect their life experiences, occupations, and hobbies.

In 2018, Peel Regional Council approved the creation of Butterfly Homes in the Region’s five long term care centres. We have implemented the Butterfly Approach on two home areas at both Malton Village and Sheridan Villa and are currently engaged in implementation of the Approach at Vera M. Davis Centre, Tall Pines, and Peel Manor. To learn more about the Butterfly Approach philosophy, please visit the Meaningful Care Matters website.

Meaningful activities to do with a person living with dementia

Arts and crafts

  • Start a collection or hobby that you both enjoy.
  • Make a "joy" box filled with fun and favourite items.
  • Watch the seasons change together. Bring in coloured leaves, snow, and spring flowers to touch and talk about.
  • Post photos and pictures of the different seasons and talk about them.
  • Make scarves, mittens, toys or the like to donate together.
  • Create a photo album, framed photographed collection or poster to hang up.
  • Make a special scrapbook acknowledging your older adult's life.
  • Write or record your older adult biography share copies with family and caregivers.
  • Design and make your own Christmas and holiday cards.
  • Bring in pinecones, grass, twigs and soil to touch and talk about.
  • Wind yarn, twine, or rope.
  • Work on a craft project together.
  • Try a new artistic pastime together such as drawing, colouring, painting or sculpturing Create each other's portraits.
  • Make gifts for your older adult to share with loved ones.
  • Bring along a sewing basket, button box, or tool kit to organize together.
  • Build a bird feeder or house to hang outside your older adult window.
  • Bring things related to the season or upcoming holiday to do and talk about.
  • Look at paint swatches together to help decide the colour of your next painting project.
  • Create a poster from pictures cut from magazines or of favourite things.


  • Read a chapter in a novel or a poem from a book of poetry.
  • Write poems or short stories together.
  • Look at tabletop books together.
  • Look at magazines that have a lot of large colourful pictures.
  • Subscribe to your older adult hometown newspaper and bring it along.
  • Read religious or inspirational articles, magazines or books.
  • Help your older adult write or record letters or send cards to people.
  • Find a pen pal and help your older adult correspond with this new friend
  • Read newspapers and magazines aloud to keep your older adult in touch with current events. Let them read to you.


  • Use some small rhythm instruments or kazoo to make your own music.
  • Dance, or tap your shoes, to your older person's favourite music.
  • Play an instrument together or learn together.
  • Sing, hum, or whistle together.
  • Play "Name That Tune" with records or music on your phone using Spotify or iTunes.
  • Listen to music or an old radio program.
  • Recite rhymes and songs from both your generations' childhoods.

Friends and family

  • Have grandchildren bring or send along artwork or school papers.
  • Bring along an old friend of your older adult for a special reunion.
  • Take photos of your older adult to send to family or friends - ask for family and friends photos too! Start a digital photo book.
  • Bring along your children or grandchildren and enjoy watching them play.
  • Celebrate the holidays together with special parties for two.
  • Share recent pictures or your community and ask your older adult to share memories of how it has changed.
  • Sit and hold your older adult hand and lend a good listening ear.
  • Bring photos of family and friends from many years ago or more recent snapshots.
  • Share your own favourite stories and memories.
  • Bring vacation photos, souvenirs, postcards, maps and tales of your travel.
  • Read letters from family and friends.
  • Listen to messages from family or friends.
  • Bring a videotaped greeting from family and friends.


  • Use your phone or tablet for a travelogue to countries around the world.
  • Watch home movies together.
  • Bring a pet to visit or photos of pets to chat about.
  • Tell jokes to one another – bring along a joke book.
  • Keep track of favourite sports teams.
  • Play Tic-Tac-Toe or Hangman.
  • Toss cards into a hat, pitch pennies, shoot marbles, play jacks.
  • Make a list of all your older adult favourite foods, movie stars and songs.
  • Play along with the television game shows or host your own version.
  • Bring a travel book or brochure to dream about your fantasy vacation.
  • Decide what you both would do if you had a million dollars.
  • Watch a sports game together.
  • Play word and trivia games together.
  • Play card games or board games together - lifelong favourites and new ones.
  • Do crossword puzzles together - or on your own to see whom can finish first.
  • Do jigsaw puzzles.
  • Keep up on television programs that your older adult watches and discuss them together.
  • Play charades.
  • Bring things related to the season or upcoming holiday to do and talk about.
  • Bring along a bird book and see how many different types of birds drop by. (How many different types of birds they recognize?)
  • Use Google to explore where your older adult grew up.
  • Bring along a bird book and see how many different types of birds drop by. (How many different types of birds they recognize?)
  • Sort socks, utensils, buttons, change or playing cards.

Being active

  • Do exercises together.
  • Take a walk outside, sit and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.
  • Ask for help planning your garden and look through the seed catalogue.
  • Plant and take care of an indoor windowsill garden or create low-maintenance terrarium.
  • Go to the park to watch the children play.
  • Attend a recreation program together.


  • Bring along a treat made from a recipe your older adult passed on to you.
  • Do some baking or no-bake cooking together.
  • Have an indoor picnic with your older adult's favourite foods.
  • Enjoy a cup of a favourite beverage together.


  • Give your older adult a gentle massage with moisturizing lotion.
  • Give your older adult a hug as you arrive and each time you say goodbye.
  • Brush, comb or style your older adult hair or paint their nails.
  • Pamper your older adult with makeup, perfume, aftershave, or a manicure.


  • Keep a journal of interesting discussions you have during your visits.
  • Learn a new word each time you visit.
  • Challenge your older adult in a two-person spelling bee.
  • Bring familiar, loved items to touch and talk about.
  • Bring things to stimulate the sense of smell- spices, herbs or flowers.
  • Bring different textured fabrics to touch - silk, wool, denim, corduroy, or velvet.
  • Talk about what you both have been doing since your last visit.

Tips for caregivers and family members

  • Keep these items in your older person's room: white board with erasable markers, cards, pens, pencils, note pad.
  • Create an activity box that you can leave with your older adult to keep all your activity items in.
  • Use headphones with a splitter to listen to music together.

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