How to be healthier: just add people
Social connections make a difference for seniors
May 24, 2017
By Lisa Brunelle, Communications Advisor, Covenant Health
Walking into the room, you hear a buzz of conversation among the ladies scattered around tables. There are lots of smiles and laughter. You might be surprised to learn it’s a gathering of an Outpatient Geriatric Psychiatry Day Program.
“This program is important for seniors with mental health challenges because they’re getting support from their peers and the staff. They’re less isolated because they’re with people who can understand their problems. Here, they’re accepted just the way they are,” says Gail Bojkewich, Recreation Therapy Assistant.
The program’s focus is on preventing unnecessary hospital readmissions by providing ongoing support and monitoring for high-risk clients through collaboration with caregivers, specialized communities of support and health providers.
“When I first came, I couldn’t even walk up the stairs. I would wait downstairs for one of the girls to come and get me. I was like that for some time. Thank God, I changed,” says Blanche Davies, a day program client of 10 years.
In addition to being physically active, clients come for cognitive stimulation, social networking and support once a week. Each day of the week, the program serves a different group of people with similar needs. An important part of the program is to connect people with resources that will help them to improve or maintain their well-being at home and in the community.
“I like coming because it helps me with my concentration. We get to do trivia, play games, learn new things and meet people,” says Beulah Lindee, a day program client for more than 12 years.
Because of the acceptance, clients may not be as guarded as in other situations, which allows staff to get a better sense of how they’re really doing. If things start changing in clients, staff may refer them to community nurses for ongoing followup or a home visit.
“I like to explain the group as a community of shared experience. If you’ve had challenges with mental health, you understand what it means much more than someone else. There’s a much higher level of empathy and compassion within the group,” says Kristi Getz, Recreation Therapist. “Social connection is one of our primary treatment modalities.”
The program is voluntary, but knowing somebody is waiting to see them can make a client get out of bed and to the program even if they don’t feel like it.
“Coming helps me because it helps me take my mind off my problems. It gives me something to look forward to and something to think about afterwards,” explains Blanche. “Just coming makes you feel like you have a family in a sense. It’s very good for people who are alone … for anybody, but especially me because I’m actually alone.”
The day program runs out of the Hys Centre and a south side location in Ermineskin, and is affiliated with Villa Caritas, Covenant Health’s acute mental health facility that specializes in caring for seniors with complex mental and medical health issues.
“Working with these people gives me hope. They’ve had multiple life challenges and persevere. I see resilience in human form and am awed,” says Kristi.