Therapeutic Recreation Roundtable

February is Recreational Therapy Month and to mark the occasion we brought our Therapeutic Recreation staff together to discuss their roles in helping create a more meaningful life for elders at St. John’s Home.

Explain the importance for St. John’s to provide opportunities to remain active and physically, mentally, and emotionally stimulated?

AmySue Ras:  Extremely important!  Imagine if someone told you that you could no longer listen to music, interact with friends and family, smile, or laugh?  All of the human domains make up who we are and how we thrive. Our elders are the same; providing a variety of structured and diversional activities helps them maintain, and hopefully improve, their entire well-being.

Jennifer Abdalla:  Any problem that you could have—whether it is physical or any malady (disease or ailment) —is going to seem so much bigger if you have nothing else to occupy your mind. We can’t take the pain away, but we can change the emphasis from what’s missing in someone’s life and make the focal point what they still have.

Alicia Montalvo:  When an elder moves to St. John’s this becomes their home. It is so important for them to have the opportunity to participate in stimulating activities that are true to their identity.

Tracy Koflanovich:  Recreation and social engagement are a huge part of human growth for any of us and without opportunities to connect with others, or with our own identity, we are less whole as a person.


How do you approach elders who seem to be resistive to socializing and programs?

Ed Keegan:  People often just need the right kind of encouragement. Not forcefulness, but encouragement, to gently help them take a step out and embrace what is going on.

Kim Graca: Right, and I think the more we are able to get to know elders the quicker we can determine who really means “no, I don’t want to participate” and who just needs that extra encouragement.      

Ed Keegan:  A big part of what we (Therapeutic Recreation staff) can bring is slowing down the pace for someone and truly engaging with them. Making eye contact and getting on their level and really taking an opportunity to connect with them.

Tracy Koflanovich:  The heart of it is providing opportunities to engage. Through that forming of relationships and knowing what is most meaningful for each individual.

Jennifer Abdalla:  That is a very important part of our role. We’re always on the lookout for what the elder’s preferences are. 


Talk about the positive impact the arts—activities involving music, dancing, drawing and painting— can have on the lives of elders.

Harmony Irwin:  There are several elders who remember that I play the guitar and they know I play the flute. They will see me coming and ask where my instrument is. Music is a great way to engage elders in so many other ways. But, it’s not just performing. You can incorporate stories and ask them questions and use trivia as well.

Kim Graca:  It is so exciting to see. When we have musicians come in we see elders who generally don’t participate a whole lot will all of a sudden be singing the words to all of the songs.

Valerie Kline: It is so awesome to see an entire living room of people come to life.  They’ll start singing and even dancing in their wheelchairs. That’s a really powerful visual.

Ed Keegan:  With dementia, you lose certain functions of the brain. But the creative side takes a different neuropathway that can remain intact longer . . .

Valerie Kline:  Yes, depending on the type of dementia.

Ed Keegan:  I have put on music before and you see some of our folks who don’t speak or communicate much at all and they are singing every word. It creates a window of remembering.


Are there other circumstances when you see similar results?

Tracy Koflanovich:  Children.  You bring a few kids into a room and it is like you have flipped a light switch. And I think giving elders the opportunity to engage with children is somehow life affirming. The energy of youth just seems to be therapeutic.

Valerie Kline: And contagious. Having children around definitely helps elders live in the moment instead of worrying about what is going to happen in the future or what they have lost.

Lamonda Robinson: For me it’s trivia. I ask random questions from 1930s movie trivia to 1950s songs to how many stars on the flag.  For some reason I end up with a room full of people who are jumping out of their seats trying to answer questions.

Tracy Koflanovich: That probably has something to do with your personality . . .     

Lamonda Robinson:  Well yeah, I guess I’m a little loud and brash.  They’ll see me coming and you can tell they’re ready to have fun.


What is the most rewarding part of your job?

AmySue Ras:  It is simple . . . the elders! Just to know what I do here at St. John’s makes a difference in their lives, even if it is just in that moment . . . it is so amazing.

Lamonda Robinson:  The elders, the relationships, the smiles, the families . . .  just having people pat you on the back saying “thank you” and knowing you’ve made a difference.

Nicole Fernandez:  A simple smile from an elder or a family lets you know that you’re responsible for a happy moment in their day.

Alicia Montalvo:  To know I have made an elder’s day. They love telling me how I make them feel and when they appreciate my presence it makes it all worthwhile.  

Kim Graca:  I like the reward of helping an elder see that there is still a lot of life left inside of them.

Jennifer Abdalla:  I think the most rewarding thing for me is that elders will trust you enough to be at their most vulnerable around you. Then you realize that it is beyond the badge around your neck. You get to know people enough to consider them friends.

Valerie Kline:  Seeing someone with advanced dementia remember your face and light up when they see you because they have had positive interactions with you in the past.

Ed Keegan:  For me it is creating awareness to a meaningful moment of engagement that has occured. Whether it is elder-to-elder or family-to-elder or staff-to-elder . . . I’m privileged to help other people see those moments and call them out.

Harmony Irwin:  Sometimes I feel like we’re “the good people.” Maybe it is a rough day on one of the neighborhoods and the elders and staff will see us coming and it will be like “you’re here, thank you!”

Kim Graca:  A breath of fresh air.

Valerie Kline:  But also—as we transition to small homes—seeing the shahbazim taking on those roles and seeing meaningful life coordinators step up and take initiative has been really rewarding.

Tracy Koflanovich:  We are building a team of people outside of ourselves. We know how important the work we do is and with the more people we can coach and train to take on a similar role we are just increasing the circle of support for our elders.

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