Recreation Therapy goes virtual

The virtual reality of recreation therapy

Patient on iPad

Between isolation, lockdowns, and physical distancing, much of the world has been forced to go virtual for all things business and social, and West Park has been no different.

Delivering patient care has no doubt changed with more Personal Protective Equipment required, more infection prevention and control measures, and more risk. But a sometimes-overlooked but integral part of patient care has had to adapt to a new, digital world. West Park’s Recreation Therapy team has responded  to the challenge.

Providing patients with therapeutic leisure opportunities that enhance quality of life has never been more important during the pandemic, as West Park’s patients, until very recently, have been without visitors or community outings since March. To address the social isolation concerns, the Recreation Therapy team has been working tirelessly to help connect patient with their loved ones through tablets and phones.

“It certainly has been challenging to adapt to all the changes that COVID-19 has brought with it,” says Ksenia Melamed, Recreation Therapist. “But our team always strives to provide excellent patient care, and we felt the need and the responsibility to rise up to this challenge. We feel that it has given us a unique opportunity to connect with patients and their families on a deeper level.”

As restrictions in Ontario begin to loosen, Recreation Therapy has been moving their attention to reinstating some favourite programs with help from patients and volunteers – albeit looking a bit different.

Always a patient-favourite, volunteer therapy dog Suki and her mom, Andrea, have been  visiting virtually with patients monthly, offering a glimpse into their lives at home and the opportunity to play and reminisce together.

The  popular Bingo is now played virtually amongst the patients from different units. As inter-unit movement is still restricted, this program provides patients a virtual get-together while enjoying some much needed laughs, conversation, and play. One of West Park’s outgoing patients has resumed his Bingo Caller role.

“Doing this virtually has really helped me to get back to some type of normalcy,” said Marc Barclay, who was eager to return to his former role as Bingo Caller. “It doesn’t matter how big or small the activity is, it helps with getting your mind off the negative things that are going on.”

The famous West Park duo, therapeutic clowns Peachy and Dizzy, have been noticeably absent from the halls of the Centre. But they too have moved into the virtual world to keep in touch with patients, video-chatting with them over Zoom , promoting play and conversation while chatting about COVID-19, making jokes, and offering the kind of emotional support only a clown could give.

Many familiar volunteers who have been missing their time at West Park have taken to filming themselves at homes telling jokes, singing songs, and doing other fun activities, among other things. The videos are being shared with patients weekly, adding a sense of comfort and familiarity to their days as routines without volunteers have drastically changed.

A crucial aspect of recreation therapy is enhancing patient care by providing specific therapies that assist with cognitive, mental, and physical health. The Recreation Therapy team has been tailoring these therapies to patients in the COVID-19 era – adhering to all infection prevention and control practices, as well as physical distancing requirements – by providing 1:1 leisure activities at bedside. On West Park’s Chronic Assisted Ventillatory Care (CAVC) unit, patients have had the chance to use an Xbox to play games as part of an ongoing joint Occupational and Recreation Therapies project.

Other 1:1 leisure interventions have included listening to audiobooks, watching in-room movies on a big screen, doing crossword puzzles and other games, and going on walks, just to name a few.

With everything going on surrounding the current pandemic, the Recreation Therapy team has gone above and beyond – and digital – to keep patients engaged as their lives drastically changed. Lorrie Leblanc, a patient on one of West Park’s Complex Continuing Care units, echoed the sentiment.

“Recreation Therapy took me on walks, helped me with my phone and tech support, and gave me a lot of emotional and practical support,” Leblanc says. “There were a lot of gaps to fill, that family members used to do that couldn’t anymore, like watering plants, finding phone chargers and even connecting us to Wi-Fi, and Naomi Max (Recreation Therapy Assistant) who works with me, has done a wonderful job filling this gap for me.”