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Roldan    The importance of recreation therapy

In any personal care home setting there is a team of health care professionals that represent the various disciplines required to ensure the health of the residents. Some of these disciplines include nursing, health care aides, occupational therapy, physical therapy, nutrition, housekeeping, spiritual care and recreation.

Each member of this interdisciplinary team is important in their own way to maximize resident care. Nursing staff is essential in providing the medical needs of the residents, working closely with the doctors, pharmacists and specialists.

Health care aids (HCA) are needed to assist our residents in all regular acts of daily living. This includes hygiene, elimination, meal assistance and transfers etc. Imagine if you only had movement in the right side of your body due to a severe stroke. How difficult would it be to get up in the morning from your bed, take a shower, brush your teeth and then get dressed to prepare for the day all by yourself? Now, imagine if you were 90 years old? Pretty difficult isn’t it? HCA’s play a very important role in the interdisciplinary team.

Physical therapists are important in maintaining and/or improving the residents’ physical range of motion. The occupational therapists are essential in developing adaptive techniques and devices that help maintain resident independence in regular acts of daily living and mobility.

The dietician works alongside the dietary aides together to provide healthy meals and promote nutritional health. The housekeeping staff ensures a clean environment, which is important especially with our residents who have compromised immune systems or are at high risk for infections. Spiritual care is also an asset in ensuring that our residents receive pastoral nourishment upon their request. Now what is the importance of recreation? Is it really a mandatory discipline? What would happen if recreation were completely removed?

There’s a long answer and a short answer to these questions. Here’s the nutshell answer. Every time someone challenges me on the importance of recreation, I simply ask this one question. What would you do if you weren’t allowed to do anything meaningfully fun? Really think about this for a moment. Things such as going to the mall, the park, playing golf, going fishing, bowling, gardening, reading, watching a movie, spending time with friends, playing cards etc. Imagine if all of that were suddenly unavailable to you? How devastating would that be? How would you view your life after such a significant loss? Now I ask you again, imagine all these losses but in the shoes of an elderly person?

For people undergoing such a change, I can see potentially catastrophic affects in their social, emotional, behavioural and cognitive health. This intern would affect their physical health due to lack of leisure satisfaction, putting them at further risk of social withdrawal and isolation. Then problems may arise with the nurses and HCA’s in providing direct care to the resident due to behaviour-related issues. Doctors may observe this behaviour and assume it to be a medical problem and prescribe an array of antipsychotics and behavioural suppressants. These drugs sometimes put the individual right out or make them so lethargic that they are no longer able to speak for themselves or communicate their needs.

All of this could have been potentially prevented if the resident was simply provided with regular opportunities to participate in quality leisure programming.

Remember, when you take away a person’s ability to be at leisure, often you are taking away more than you think. This is the importance of recreation therapy.

Recreation’s purpose is not to kill time,
But to make time live,
Not to keep a person occupied,
But to keep a person refreshed,
Not to offer an escape from life,
But to provide a discovery of life!

Calvary Place PCH Rehab Department

This article is for information purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. For more information, please seek the services of a medical professional.

The author, JR Sevillano, works as a Recreation Therapist in a Winnipeg nursing home.

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