Happiness

Celebrate this most illusory of human emotions and the activities that can bring about well-being.

It’s not just bathing and feeding

It’s not just bathing and feeding

by RICHIE ASSALY

It’s respite for you and the miracle of discovery and sense of purpose for your loved one, through therapeutic recreation.

As shift-change approaches, the hospital is briefly engulfed by a swirling of bodies and a multitude of sounds and voices.

Amid the harmonious bustle, Mary’s presence behind the nurses’ desk is particularly conspicuous.

A former charge nurse now 85 years of age, Mary sits purposefully in her wheelchair, holding a chart and quietly imparting orders. With the aid of her recreational therapist, she folds bandages, at ease.

Kicking recreation therapy up a notch, it’s remarkable what Jackson Therapeutic Recreation can do to give a sense of purpose to those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Since 2003, the Toronto-based agency has provided private one-to-one recreational therapy for seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease across Ontario, including the GTA, Peel, Halton, Hamilton, Niagara, Simcoe, Kitchener/Waterloo, North Bay, Sudbury, and Algoma.

“We try to help people stay as engaged and stimulated as possible in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them, and we do that using recreational-based activities,” explains president and founder Matt Jackson. “People generally spend 8 hours a day sleeping, 8 hours a day working, and 8 hours doing something else. We take care of the something else.”

With unique activities based on each client’s present and past leisure interests, recreational therapy can help exercise and maintain one’s physical, cognitive, and social abilities.

If a client used to love fishing, we come ready with a rudimentary tackle box.

“If a client used to love fishing, we come ready with a rudimentary tackle box that we are going to organize,” explains Jackson. “And if it’s not a tackle-box day for this fella, we have a couple of other backup activities ready, too.”

Therapeutic recreational activities can alleviate “responsive” behaviors by diverting an individual’s attention or removing the source of their anxiety, which is common in those living with dementia.

“We sort of act like a detective,” explains Jane Hiller, a recreational therapist with Jackson TR. “We search for the triggers and resolutions of a responsive behavior, then we work with the individual to develop various forms of modification or intervention … to redirect their attention or decrease their frustration.”

Recreational therapy can be found throughout the health care system, but it’s usually conducted in a group setting. The one-to-one services offered by Jackson TR have several advantages, including client-therapist rapport.

“Quite often, individuals with dementia will lose sense of person, place or time,” explains Hiller. “[The consistency] of one-to-one therapy is that they remember our faces, remember that they like us, and remember our connection.

“This way they are more willing to participate, and as TRs we can properly monitor their progression or regression, and make our next move accordingly.”

The services

The services of Jackson TR provide caregivers with respite. Traveling to their clients, whether living in the community or in a long-term care facility, Jackson recreational therapists are available daily; most clients meet with their therapist two to three times a week. Each session is a minimum of 2 hours, at a rate of $29 to $35 per hour.

In addition to respite, caregivers are provided with new caregiving strategies, and 24-hour access to Jackson TR’s online documentation system. “Caregivers don’t have to be there while we are working their loved one, explains Jackson. “And we provide caregivers with the tools and training for the days we’re not there.”

Diane, whose dementia has progressed rapidly over the last year, has experienced a significant decrease in her cognitive, emotional, and physical abilities. After 45 minutes of concentrated painting with her recreational therapist, Diane beholds her completed artwork, and beams with pride.

“As TRs,” Hiller contends, “these are the inspiring moments that we strive for.”

For more info

Call toll-free 1-888-684-7729

For the Jackson TR web page on Alzheimer’s care, click here.

Richie Assaly is a Toronto-based reporter.

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