While physical distancing has made in-person visits impossible, a group of Brock University students used some inside-the-box thinking to get connected with residents of a local long-term care home.
As part of their third-year RECL 3P12 Leisure and Aging course, 17 pairs of students conducted virtual meetings with residents of Radiant Care Tabor Manor in St. Catharines to engage in social interaction, get an idea of their life history and leisure interests, and prepare special care packages.
The packages students created for the residents were customized sensory boxes, which safely allow them to engage in recreational activities that stimulate their five senses and remind them of hobbies they have enjoyed.
The class learned that during the pandemic, older residents received less sensory stimulation from the environment, which may lead to sensory deprivation and cognitive deterioration. Because of this, each sensory box was developed based on the individual resident’s needs and aimed to improve their physical, cognitive, emotional, social and spiritual well-being through sensory stimulation, leisure engagement, and reminiscence.
For third-year Therapeutic Recreation student Lindsey White, the community-focused experiential education exercise offered the chance to grow her own skillset while also learning beyond the classroom and helping others.
“I was happy to give someone a source of happiness and purpose,” she said. “I know many older adults are isolated and may not be able to see their family members this year. I hope this gives them some connection and purpose during a more difficult holiday season.”
White and her partner Mel Mann paid close attention to the details they had learned from Mini Terhorst, the resident they interviewed.
“We hit it off with Mini right away,” said White. “She seemed to love seeing younger people who wanted to engage with her. It made us happy to get to know each other and form a genuine connection.”
With that connection and the information they had gleaned from the conversation, White and Mann created a box that aimed to stimulate Terhorst’s senses while also invoking memories of things she was passionate about.
“She mentioned she loved to travel, so we included kinetic sand to remind her of the beach and promote dexterity,” said White. “She also talked about her love of cardinals, so we made a customized puzzle for her that had a cardinal on it to encourage cognitive stimulation and physical co-ordination.”
Terhorst was excited and thankful to receive the package, which had been disinfected and quarantined to ensure safety.
“The students put in a lot of time and effort and did a great job,” she said. “I will have lots to do now and am happy to be kept busy. Thank you so much.”
The course’s instructor, Assistant Professor of Recreation and Leisure Studies Pei-Chun Hsieh, said the chance for students to interact virtually and foster meaningful community engagement with a population they may not have worked with before was beneficial to all involved.
“During the pandemic, many practitioners have offered treatment services through virtual platforms,” she said. “This project allowed students to practice their interview skills while learning how to engage older adults in meaningful conversation through virtual meetings.
Hsieh said the project also counter-balanced stereotypical views some students have about older adults in care facilities.
“I want them to see the aging process as a normal part of life,” she said. “The students learn that older adults can still contribute to society in many ways, and the residents believe in supporting our students and helping the younger generation.”
Thanks to an Experiential Education Teaching and Learning Innovation Grant, funded by the Experiential Education office, a total of 17 boxes were created. After being disinfected and quarantined, they were then safely delivered to Reliant Care Tabor Manor, where staff members distributed the boxes and assisted residents in completing the activities.
“A program like this one reminds residents they can still be a part of the community, and it’s exciting for them,” said Radiant Care Tabor Manor Therapeutic Recreation Supervisor Norma Restivo. “They knew the boxes were coming, but they were not sure what would be in them. They have been affected by physical distancing in so many ways, and this type of social engagement is safe and fantastic. I know they have been very excited to see the contents and engage in the activities the students have created.”
Having already organized another virtual visit with Terhorst, White is thankful for the connections and friendships community engagement exercises create.
“It has been so nice to make a new connection with someone in a completely safe way,” she said. “And it’s always great to give back to the community, especially during the holiday season.”