A day in the life at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre

It’s early Friday morning and about a dozen 7th floor residents are participating in the Breakfast Club program. They are sitting in their wheelchairs or on chairs with their walkers nearby while eating and chatting. Today the residents have planned their own menu and are having scrambled eggs, toast and cheese served with orange juice and coffee/tea. The Breakfast Club is one of about 20 daily activities led by Therapeutic Recreation Specialists at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Montreal (DBM).

“Leisure is an inherent part of life. Therapeutic Recreation brings out enjoyment in residents’ lives, taking into account what impairments and what abilities they have,” says Catherine Drew, a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist at DBM for the last 12 years. “When a resident is admitted to a long-term care facility they should be able to continue to engage in activities they enjoy.”

At the Breakfast Club, a 100 year old resident tells her friends that she would like to go to Vancouver. “They have beautiful spas,” she says. Her friend chimes in “Look at the weather, I’d rather go to Florida.” The Breakfast Club provides a dining experience and the opportunity to socialize over the morning meal.  Allison Friedman, the Therapeutic Recreation Specialist leading today’s program says, “We create an ambience of home with flowers on the tables and the aroma of freshly cooked food.”

When a resident is admitted to DBM, they and their family meet with the interdisciplinary team responsible for their care. This includes the Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (TRS). The team looks at the person’s interests, hobbies, likes/dislikes and finds activities that bring them joy.

“Therapeutic Recreation normalizes or deinstitutionalizes the experience of living in long-term care.  Without appropriate specialized activities the residents’ quality of life would be diminished. We tailor programs to meet the individual needs of each resident so they can engage in a meaningful leisure experience- the more physically oriented enjoy sports, for the more social we have conversation-based programs. If they can’t engage verbally, maybe they’ll enjoy playing cards. If they used to bowl, we’ll set up an adapted bowling game for them. The virtual Wii game brings the whole bowling experience to the residents while promoting physical upper body strength, range of motion and hand-eye coordination. For end-stage dementia residents, a hand massage or aromatherapy can be very therapeutic,” explains TRS Kim Weippert.

Activities at this 387-bed long-term care facility happen seven days a week, evenings, and weekends and  give families the opportunity to enjoy these activities together such as during the family concerts on Sunday afternoons.  More than 80 per cent of residents have some cognitive loss.

“Sometimes you think you can’t get any reaction from a resident at all, but then you see them in a music program and they are tapping their feet, or sometimes you see them tearing up in a music program maybe because the music is reminding them of another time, or making them feel happy. You can often see it in their eyes,” says TRS Lucy Bridgeman.

Music is one of the most popular activities at the Centre, in particular on the weekends when many families visit. Musician Edwin Orion Brownell plays the piano and sings for residents several days a week. Today, he’s performing a varied repertoire which includes 80’s rock’n roll, Jewish songs and familiar tunes from when the residents were young.

“It takes them back to a time they remember and it’s amazing how they may not know what day it is but they can sing the lyrics,” says Brownell. “The attendees in long-term care are really the best audience I’ve ever had. I love coming here. The residents pay attention and really appreciate the music,” he adds as he heads to the elevator to entertain a crowd on another floor.

Another activity at the DBM is art therapy. Recently, family members, residents and companions took part in art therapy’s first open studio event called Fun Family Portraits. Art therapist Sondra Goldman and her team provided props such as silly hats, glasses and other accessories to create this everlasting family memory.

“It was so nice to see the residents get excited about this fun activity. You could see it in their eyes, feel it in their expressions. They truly enjoyed themselves,” says Goldman, who had several volunteers help the participants choose which props they wanted to be photographed in.

Goldman recounts watching a playful sword fight between a grandfather and grandson as well as spontaneous singing by another intergenerational family. “By the time the picture was taken, the residents were so full of joy,” she says.  Each resident received a photo of themselves to help decorate their room.

Other similar events are planned for the future.  “This is a wonderful opportunity for the family to bond with the resident even if they are unable to communicate verbally,” says Goldman.  “Art allows us to stimulate our senses and share with others without the need for words,” she adds.

Activities at DBM include birthday parties, doll therapy, bingo, bowling, mall outings and more.  A calendar of activities is published once a month.

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