December 14, 2018

BY KANDACE GALLANT

One of the toughest decisions some families have to make is putting their loved ones in a nursing home. But once they’re there, there are plenty of activities to keep them happy and occupied.
At Riverside Glen in Guelph, there are many things for the patients to take part in. Bingo nights, exercise classes, pet therapy … There are fun things scheduled every day all year long.

“My grandpa isn’t usually one to take part in things,” said Carl Mitchell, who was visiting her grandfather. “I was shocked when I walked in one day and found him doing exercises with everyone else. He never even used to want to go for walks with me, but there he was doing arm and leg stretches with the instructor.”

Mitchell’s grandfather suffers from dementia and needs help looking after himself, but she said he’s still as happy as ever and keeps a positive attitude.

“When he saw me walk in, his smile lit up the whole room,” said Mitchell. “And then he just kept doing his stretches. I was so shocked. I’m glad they got him doing things like that.”

She said they have many other fun things that they get him to do, like stress-relieving colouring, and even helping to look after all the plants in the “green room.”

“Of course I feel bad that he had to come here and leave his home,” said Mitchell. “But he’s doing a lot of stuff that he’s never done before. He never used to do stretches or care about looking after plants.”

Michelle Billings, Mitchell’s stepmother, who is also a registered practical nurse (RPN) at another nursing home in Guelph, said she’s happy he’s been getting involved in activities too.

“It was hard to get him to do things at home,” said Billings. “He always just wanted to sit in his chair and watch TV. But when he’s here, for some reason he wants to be up and walking around and seeing what’s going on. I think it’s great that he’s getting more exercise and socializing.”

Billings said working as an RPN, especially with patients who have dementia, can be challenging, but that she loves it all the same.

“I know that the nurses here work really hard to make sure their patients are happy,” said Billings. “It can be hard, especially when they are constantly asking for things because they don’t remember asking for it a few minutes before. You just have to have a lot of patience and I’m so glad the girls here do. They treat him like gold.”

Billings said they do the same type of activities at the nursing home she works at to keep the patients active.

“They absolutely love playing bingo,” said Billings. “They may never have even liked playing before, but in the home it gives them something to do and then they end up loving it.”

She said doing activities like this benefits their physical and mental health. It can also get family members involved, which may help make the patients want to do it more. Pet therapy is something that can greatly improve their mood too.

“Pet therapy is so soothing for elder patients,” said Billings. “If they have Alzheimer’s, letting them pet or play with the animals helps to calm down their agitations or behaviour. It also helps if patients have had to leave their pets at home when they came to the nursing home, so reuniting with their pets is always a happy moment. They may have dementia, but they never forget the love they hold for their pets.”

Mitchell agreed that it’s special seeing the residents playing with the animals.

“It kind of brings a tear to my eye,” Mitchell said. “It makes them so happy, and of course that’s really important for the families who feel guilty for having to put their parents and grandparents into the home.”

Getting the residents to take part in the exercise classes is also a great way to improve both physically and mentally. It can help with strength, mobility and flexibility.
“I think my grandpa has definitely improved mobility-wise,” said Mitchell. “He has to walk with a walker, but I can’t believe how much faster he’s gotten.”

She joked that he’ll be able to race her up and down the hallways pretty soon. She added since he’s been at the home, he’s even asked to go on walks and always tells her he’ll walk her to the elevator when she’s leaving.

“I can’t believe some of the things he’s been doing,” said Mitchell. “He never used to want to walk anywhere and now he’s offering to walk with me when I leave.”

“Sometimes we’ll ask him about the exercises he may have done that day but he can’t remember,” said Billings. “But I think he really does enjoy it at that moment and I’m very happy about that.”

Billings and Mitchell agreed that it will take a while for them to lose that “guilty feeling” of having to put their family member in the home, but they are happy he’s there nonetheless.

“Every so often he’ll ask to go home, or ask where he is, and we just explain he needs extra care and we remind him that he loves it here,” said Billings. “Once he takes part in an activity it takes his mind off things like that. Doing arts and crafts, or looking after plants, or playing with the dogs that come in, have really lowered his persistent behaviour.”

Billings said she looks forward to seeing his constant improvement and she’s glad they have programs and activities to keep the patients occupied and entertained.

“It’s an essential part of the caregiving in nursing homes,” said Billings. “The residents’ happiness always comes first.”

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