Therapist brings recreation right to seniors' homes
Published Sunday, January 22, 2012 10:26PM EST
All across this country, thousands of seniors sit alone at home, day after day, watching TV and not doing much else.
But a unique program is working to help seniors who don't want to move to retirement homes to stay stimulated at home, by bringing recreational therapy and activities to their door.
Marla Kurtz, started her company Ray of Sunshine, because she found that all too often, seniors who choose to live at home are living unchallenged and unstimulated lives.
"It pains me when I see people who were so busy and motivated and huge people part of our society… kind of put on the shelf," she tells CTV News.
So every week, she travels to the homes of her seniors who are experiencing cognitive decline or who have survived a stroke or other illness, and gets them active again.
One of her clients is 90-year-old Nathan Goldman. Once a week, Kurtz visits the home Goldman shares with his wife of 65 years, to engage him in a functional fitness chair exercise program.
Kurtz then tries to find ways to stimulate the brains of her clients, by finding out what they like best. After learning that Goldman used to be a custom home builder, Kurtz got him doing jigsaw puzzles, which he really enjoys. He also does step-by-step drawing, and word searches.
Kurtz says when she first started working with Goldman, he was easily irritated, lost interest in activities quickly, and rarely completed tasks. His family was worried that he was deteriorating.
But with a little coaxing from Kurtz, Goldman now enjoys the visits and the challenges that Kurtz brings him. His self esteem and motivation are up, he's feeling less agitated, and his mobility has increased. He can do complex puzzles that surprise even him.
"The fact I can do them is beyond my comprehension," Nathan says.
"I think that is wonderful to keep me going."
Goldman's son, Jeff Goldman, has also seen the difference.
"His general demeanor, his general mood, has improved greatly because he has more of a feeling of accomplishment," he says.
Kurtz also visits Sara Grosz, 84. In her youth, Grosz loved to crochet and knit, but after a stroke, she lost that skill. The prescription for her? Sewing therapy.
Using yarn and a plastic needle, Kurtz has Grosz recreate patterns on a board, creating simple images of sailboats and houses.
"Sometimes, it is a little hard, but I know that after she leaves, I feel good," says Grosz.
Combining the sewing therapy with chair fitness, Grosz has increased her focus and is able to complete more complex patterns. She is eager to learn and now looks forward to each visit, says Kurtz.
Studies have long shown that keeping active slow aging and mental decline. That's why Dr. Elena Moro, a neurologist at Toronto Western Hospital, refers patients to Kurtz.
"She has the gift to reach them at their own level and to help them in coping with (cognitive decline). But we need hundreds of Marlas, doing the same job," she says.
Moro would like to see more services such as Ray of Sunshine, with therapists going door to door to revive aging bodies and minds, and to help make the golden years of more seniors, more fulfilling.
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip