An aged care engagement specialist is calling on the sector to reconnect with their performers and artists or recruit others to deliver window therapy to aged care residents, writes Natasha Egan.
Prior to the COVID-19 visitor precautions, creative engagement specialist Maurie Voisey-Barlin made around 60 scheduled one-on-one visits and 20 spontaneous interactions a week with aged care residents at five services in the Hunter region of New South Wales.
“Under the current visitor restrictions, creatives like me who work therapeutically, saw their wellbeing programs cancelled,” Mr Voisey-Barlin tells Australian Ageing Agenda.
However, Mr Voisey-Barlin has developed a way to continue creatively engaging and connecting with residents from outside the facility.
“In response to the COVID-19 precautions, I have adapted my approach and now interact with my elders at their room windows or at the large windows in common areas for playful interactions,” he says.
“I’ve been using the fat chalk style whiteboard textas to draw comic portraits of them on the window or write messages, writing backwards of course.”
Mr Voisey-Barlin also plays Tic Tac Toe, charades and guessing games with residents through the window.
‘Something to look forward to’
Meaghan Feringa, care supervisor at residential care facility Merton Living, Denman, says the approach evokes playfulness and creativity, which are hard to find for residents isolated from the people they care about.
“In such uncertain times Window Therapy has provided consistency, a familiar face, an emotional connection of a friend and something to look forward to for our consumers, many of whom are craving the outside world,” she says.
“This approach is a creative way of bringing it as close to home as safely as possible.”
And Mr Voisey-Barlin wants aged care facilities around the country to help do the same for their residents.
“My aim is for individual residential services to reconnect with artists they were working with prior to the visitor restrictions and try this out,” Mr Voisey-Barlin says.
Or they can try sourcing other performers, artists and creatives from the arts health sector, he says.
“It is a specialist type of role but in the times of COVID-19, many performers who have good engagement skills and a deep curiosity for people could give this a go,” he says.
Creating opportunities for interaction
Mr Voisey-Barlin says it is important to choose an artist, creative, performer or entertainer who creates opportunities for interaction rather than perform at the residents.
“They need to be able to engage, be curious, a touch provocative but able to read cues and moderate. They need empathy, insight and a cheeky streak a mile wide.”
Mr Voisey-Barlin says the role requires thinking physically because residents cannot always hear from the other side of the window.
Unless you call them on a phone, which he has done.
Another useful approach is to cause trouble and pretend to try to get inside, says Mr Voisey-Barlin.
“Two weeks ago, in a surprise attack at Merton Living Denman, the elders were given foam bullets and Nerf guns by the activity officer to use me as target practice as they shot at me.
“It was a delightful scene.”
He says the activities or lifestyle officer who can encourage the elders to join in is another crucial ingredient for success.
“They are on the other side of the window with the elders and help the interactions from inside, making it fun, perhaps naughty, and help focus the activity, support those with physical or cognitive barriers or add to the cheeky playful responses.”
Whiddon rolls out window therapy program
Mr Voisey-Barlin is delivering window therapy sessions to residents at several facilities four days a week.
Whiddon is another aged care provider who has already partnered with him on the new program.
The provider is rolling it the program to its three homes in the Hunter region after trialling it at Whiddon Largs, says Karn Nelson, Whiddon executive general manager.
“Our residents have responded well to this new approach and are delighted that they can still laugh along with Maurie, and enjoy the benefits of the sessions – albeit it through the window.”
Mr Voisey-Barlin visited Whiddon weekly prior to the restrictions to provide a much-loved creative engagement and play program for residents.
Ms Nelson says they were worried how residents would respond to him being unable to attend and so were delighted to work with him on the adaptation.
“We are currently extending the sessions to our care homes in Redhead and Belmont, which is very exciting for our residents and employees in these homes,” she says.
Like many aged care providers, Ms Nelson says Whiddon is limiting visitors to its homes to help protect residents and employees from COVID-19.
“We understand that this is a difficult time for everyone, and know how important it is right now as an aged care provider, that we find creative and innovative ways to help ensure our residents continue to stay happy, connected and well.”