As more and more of the population grows older, and seniors residences are filling up, a pair of caregivers are starting a program to keep seniors, fit, active and in their own homes longer.
Mandy Truman is a care aide who’s worked in various group homes, complex care and assisted-living facilities, and in the last two years began working in seniors activities and recreation.
Jeannine Krefting is a recreation therapist of 20 years, and a fitness instructor specializing in working with seniors.
Together, they are starting West Coast Recreation — a day program that will offer various activities, from exercise to baking, gardening, art therapy, music programs and more for seniors who are still living at home, but are starting to need support.
Truman said she’s seen how seniors in medical facilities lose touch with or no longer have the opportunity to do some of the hobbies and interests that have given flavour to their lives.
“I always like to compare it to dry toast,” she said. “If you don’t have any butter on your toast, it’s just flavourless.”
While assisted living facilities often strive to provide recreation programming, this disconnect from activities can happen even earlier, said Truman.
“In the community, a lot of times, when people are starting to have the signs of aging, whether it be cognitively or physically, they isolate themselves for pride or whatever reason.
“Sometimes if they’re living with family, and the family members work all day, then they are pretty much just waiting for someone to come home. Whereas we want to provide a place where not only can they be physically active and stimulated, but actually form a sense of community. Something that they actually get excited to come to, to share who they are.
“We just want them to keep living, really.”
Another benefit of the program would be to take pressure off of unpaid caregivers — family, spouses and friends who are supporting their loved ones.
Krefting cited an updated reported by B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie indicating that in 2015/2016, 31 per cent of clients had a primary caregiver in distress — an increase of seven per cent from the 2015 report.
Truman said she’s seen the effects firsthand — the dark circles under the eyes, the irritability and impatience, and she adds it’s not the caregiver’s fault that they feel that way.
“But we can look at (seniors needing support) in a completely different way. We’re not related to them, so therefore we can look at them as a whole person, not get frustrated by their behaviours, and we have a strong background that allows us to be empathetic, understanding and extremely respectful,” said Truman.
While there are existing programs that offer activities for seniors needing support, Truman said those can have wait lists of up to a year.
“That’s way too long,” said Krefting.
The pair are planning to start their business in early October, working out of St. Edmund’s Church in Parksville. To start, they plan to offer sessions one day a week, with various activities available, and provide coffee, tea and a nutritious lunch.
The activities offered to each senior could be tailored to them, with each client discussing their needs, interests and history to Krefting and Truman before their first day.
Within a year, the pair hope to offer more days each week and more parts of the program, including baths and other health services.
Ultimately, they want their program to run five or six days a week.
And, though they are not currently subsidized (they are in contact with Vancouver Island Health Authority, they said), they plan to keep the program affordable.
“(Seniors) are on a fixed income. We know that it’s tough for them, but our program is going to offer services at less than $10 an hour,” said Krefting.
The pair also hopes to engage various other groups, instructors and program providers to see what more they can offer, and create a community that actively supports their clients.
“People that are involved with seniors, that know about the need, contact us, let us know. Let’s work together to build the dream that we have,” said Truman. “We are a small business, but we are a small business with a non-profit philosophy. We just want to put a service out there that’s affordable, and any subsidies, grants, any deals we can get will immediately transfer to the senior.”
Krefting and Truman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-240-0692.