It’s graduation time! All the studying, essays and quizzes are complete, yippee! I saw the finish line and crossed it triumphantly. Almost a year ago, I began the Therapeutic Recreation Assistant program. I was full of excitement and anticipation for what the year of study would bring for me and a little terrified at the same time. Each week completed meant I was one step closer to the milestone of graduating. The satisfaction of knowing that all the focus and hard work has paid off feels huge.
When I think back to the times I felt overwhelmed by the course work, it doesn’t seem so bad. I was able to endure, do what I needed and ultimately succeed… Okay, it was messier than that. I pushed through the middle part of my academic journey head down, nose in book, fingers on keyboard, knowing the end would come. I put a countdown on my calendar and crossed off each week as it passed. I wanted graduation to come sooner than later. I was in the “messy middle part”.
As a world, we are all in the messy middle part of the COVID-19 pandemic. It began quietly enough and we are now several months into the year doing what we must to endure. Meanwhile, we are to self-isolate while staying connected with our loved ones. Thankfully, we have technology like video calling to help.
I remember several years ago my aunt asked me to show her how Instagram worked as it was the only way for her to keep up with what her grandchildren and great-grandchildren were doing – no one was using the telephone anymore because sharing pictures and videos was far superior. My aunt liked seeing the videos of the new babies in the family and being a part of the shared jokes in group chats. She was fortunate, she figured out how to stay connected to her geographically distant family.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was putting skills that Therapeutic Recreation Assistants (TRAs) use into action. Older adults need to connect with their friends and families. If that means teaching them a new technology, then it’s important to sit down with them and make it a priority! As a TRA, I now realize the value of teaching older adults how to communicate through technology. This has become even more important as we navigate the messy middle part of COVID-19.
If I were to rank modes of interaction from least to most effective, it would be snail-mail letters, emails, phone calls, video
calls, with the most effective being in-person interactions. There is something special about seeing the face of the person you are interacting with. For families who have limited time with their loved ones, being able to interact with them is very precious.
In 2018, my dad passed away. I was fortunate that I was able to be by my dad’s side for the three weeks leading up to his death. There were small moments shared between us during those days that mean more to me than I’ll ever be able to articulate. That time was so precious.
I think about the families separated from their loved ones who live in long-term care. They can’t be in the same space right now so moments are lost. Families who can, have connected with their loved ones via video calling to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices.
By applying what I learned in the Therapeutic Recreation Assistant program, I know now more than ever, during this messy middle part, it is so important to rely on technology so that older adults and their loved ones can continue to have meaningful interactions.
Motivated by the need to help families reach their loved ones and as part of my practicum assignment, I created a series of session plans that could deliver interactions through technology. Each session plan covered one or more of the five domains of interaction (social, physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual). The plans include meditation, relaxation, virtual vacations, short story readings, and interesting conversation topics meant to inspire reminiscence.
I put the sessions into practice with willing volunteers, otherwise known as friend’s parents and neighbours and saw firsthand how technology can be a powerful tool. It was amazing to see the interest in using video calls. I was happy with how much more enhanced the visits were via video versus phone conversations. Being able to see the faces of the people you are talking with made a tremendous difference. Facial expressions soften the tone of a comment or punctuate a shared story. Being able to show my participants my very sad looking tomato plant rather than trying to describe its droopy stature earned me a few laughs and plenty of gardening advice, including – “Lori, just go buy a new healthy plant and leave that poor thing alone.”
The video calls were the favourite mode of connection for my participants. A recurring theme among the virtual visits was the self-isolation due to COVID-19, that ‘this too shall pass’. We might be in an environment of physical distancing for the long haul but the seniors I spoke with seemed to share a similar perspective: we will adjust and adapt, doing more with less helps us sort the important things from the not so important things. Yes, this isolation is using up valuable time we could spend with our families but once we are safe to come together again, we will enjoy them that much more.
What I’ve taken away from the virtual visits thus far is that time marches on, beginnings and endings will occur whether we are paying attention or not. The messy middle parts determine how good the ‘graduation’ or end will be. Figure out how to adapt and adjust, know what your priorities are and appreciate the time spent with loved ones.
Click the link to learn more about Therapeutic Assistant Diploma Program (Gerontology Specialization).