Activity Kits provide relief to isolated seniors during pandemic at Guelph General Hospital

COVID-19 has affected our services at the hospital in so many ways. One of the most heartbreaking for us has been the reduction to the level of support we can offer our older adults, who have emerged as an incredibly vulnerable population during this pandemic.

With thanks to our community’s generous donations to the COVID-19 Critical Response Fund, the Hospital has resources to continue to respond to patient care needs emerging from the pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, our Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) had 55 highly trained volunteers operating on three shifts a day to address the geriatric issues known to contribute to cognitive and functional decline during hospitalization. HELP volunteers did cognitive stimulation and therapeutic activities, sleep enhancement strategy work, exercise, feeding assistance and other supports. All of this ended abruptly when volunteers were no longer allowed here as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

As a result, our older patients are not getting the same amount of engagement, stimulation and fulfillment they once were. In response, our Elder Life Specialist, Rebekah Larter, has recently begun to create Senior-Friendly Activity kits and Paint for Patients kits.

Rebekah has been joined by a Therapeutic Recreation student from Georgian College for a 5-month placement. Lauren Lattner has been helping with the preparation of the activity kits, designed after Montessori principals adapted for dementia care.

Montessori principles focus on re-discovering and supporting the person behind dementia. Activities with meaning and purpose are put back into people’s lives based on their needs, interests, skills and abilities. For example, a sorting task of a jumble of office supplies may interest a former office worker. Ripping raffle tickets off of a roll may appeal to seniors who used to volunteer at community events. Arranging flowers in a vase may connect to long-term memories of preparing for a special occasion.

As Lauren observed, “These activity kits are absolutely essential to provide an opportunity for engagement and help to alleviate the stress patients may be under in the hospital setting while also keeping their minds active. Cognitive stimulation is a key component for improving the overall health of our older adult population.”
This sentiment was echoed by Rebekah, who enthused, “These activity kits can help to redirect behavioural responses that can be challenging for our care teams to manage. Guelph General Hospital is committed to senior-friendly care and this initiative is going to help bridge the gap until our HELP volunteers are back.”

Rebekah pointed out how the kits are designed to be worked on alone by individuals, or perhaps together with their essential care partner. She asserts, “Being able to provide patients and their care partners with the option of an activity during their hospital stay can provide meaningful opportunities for connection through past enjoyed activities.”

Activity Kits are reusable plastic bins containing assorted supplies for the tasks and items for the games. These kits are designed to appeal to a wide range of older adults but mostly geared toward those living with dementia. One activity the majority of older adults are largely capable of participating in is painting, and many people enjoy the opportunity for creative expression while in the hospital. Kits will include a wood, canvas or ceramic item, brushes and small single-use paint pots. Another kit may include fidget spinners, a deck of cards, crosswords, magazines, word searches, adult colouring books, pencil crayons, pens and hygiene supplies.

The items for the Activity Kits and Paint Kits have been chosen with great consideration for the best practices in infection prevention and control. Items need to be a material that can be safely wiped and washed in our central laundry before any reuse. Items that can’t be washed, for example, the silk flowers for arranging, will be single-use. If the patient doesn’t choose to take them home at discharge, they will need to be disposed of to prevent any risk of spreading COVID-19. There will be five to eight Paint Kits on each floor, constantly replenished at all times, on an activity cart.

Rebekah and Lauren, along with affiliated caregivers who work with our older adult population, know this will help prevent cognitive decline, functional decline and redirect behavioral responses. We are so grateful for the generous donations from the community that allow us to be able to provide this programming at Guelph General Hospital.