Upon hearing the first few words of Anne Murray’s "Tennessee Waltz," the entire group gathered around the table bursts into song. The joyous sound attracts the attention of people in the hallway who peek in the doorway and smile.
This happy group of five Misericordia Community Hospital patients are enjoying a visit with the Library Assistant from the Jasper Place Branch of the Edmonton Public Library (EPL). The monthly visits are part of the recreation therapy for some longer-term patients on the fourth and sixth floors.
Many fourth-floor patients have some level of cognitive impairment, but that doesn’t lessen the appreciation they have for learning and talking about the Canadian singing icon.
“I was from the Maritimes, and it makes my whole heart beat faster when I hear Anne Murray sing,” says Elsie Sommerflet, a patient. “It was wonderful to hear her today.”
Library staff bring a variety of materials to share with Misericordia Hospital patients, including short stories or information about notable people, places and events.
“Having EPL come is good for patients’ attention,” says Kayla Kruger, Recreation Therapist at the Misericordia Hospital. “It’s good for their recall and listening skills because they need to pay attention so they can answer questions or reminisce about a past experience that relates to the story.”
Kayla says having stories tied to special events activities throughout the year like Christmas, Easter or even the Olympics can help ground patients in time.
Physical, emotional and social benefits are an added bonus. The visits bring patients together, which can reduce isolation and give them opportunities to interact with others.
Research has shown that being read to offers a host of benefits, including relaxation. Stories may stimulate imagination and curiosity, providing new thoughts and ideas. They may evoke laughter and give pleasure that can lift the listener’s spirits. Hearing a story may also reawaken long-forgotten positive memories of being read to in the past.
EPL staff also benefit from the experience. Patients are often grateful for the experiences they have with staff. The visits give staff the opportunity to have a deeper experience with people than they may have working behind a desk at a library.
“I enjoy coming and visiting patients because it’s always different,” says Anna Maria, Library Assistant at the Jasper Place Branch. “It’s always nice when you’re able to come and bring some joy.”
Being accessible to all is important to EPL staff.
“At the library, we emphasize non-judgmental service. We try to treat people with dignity and respect 100 per cent of the time,” says Karen Doerksen, Community Librarian at the Mill Woods Branch of EPL.
Mill Woods Branch staff visit mental health units at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital once a month.
“We use the program to help promote the library and what it has to offer to adults, so patients know about a community resource that can help connect them to others while they’re a patient on the unit and once they’re discharged,” says Shelley Brown, Recreation Therapist in the Mental Health department at the Grey Nuns Hospital.
Some Grey Nuns patients make their way to the EPL Mill Woods Branch and approach the staff member they met. One woman started bringing her children, says Shelley.
“To me, having our patients go to the library is a huge win because they’re making use of a valuable community resource,” says Shelley. “The visits can decrease anxiety, boost self-esteem, and increase concentration and problem-solving.”
Patients have told staff that having access to computers at EPL helps them find community programming, housing or other information of interest.
Library staff offer a range of activities during the visits, and the Misericordia team has found patients enjoy adult colouring, which helps them stay focused and engaged while the stories are being read.
The hospitals’ recreation therapists work closely with EPL community librarians to find activities to engage patients.
“I find music is kind of universal for everyone,” says Anna Maria.
The library staff also often bring hands-on activities such as Snap Circuits, where you can build simple electronics, or Lego.
“I brought Snap Circuits for the group,” says Karen. “It turned out there was an electrician in the group, and she was very excited with the activity. She soon gathered a little group around her. While they had trouble getting some of the machines up and running, they laughed non-stop throughout the event. It was a great opportunity for that patient to do her thing and shine.”
EPL has been visiting patients at the Misericordia Hospital since 2013 and working with the Mental Health department at the Grey Nuns since 2018.
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