Residents overcome depression, social isolation thanks to gym

The average long-term care resident spends up to 65 per cent of the day alone in their room. Often, less movement causes a decline in health, which can contribute to depression and social isolation. 

“This is especially true for long-term care residents because they have had so many losses in their lives,” explains Mary Desfosses, Physiotherapist at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre. “They have lost people, their homes and the freedom to make choices." 

Mary, Naveen Sharma, Shikha Sinha, and Sudeesh Sudeesh, the physiotherapy team, wanted to give more residents the opportunity to use the centre's rehabilitation gym to increase their autonomy and improve their health. 

They were eager to start the open gym in January, allowing residents to work out on their own or with the assistance of family members. Staff are also available to set the residents up with the equipment, troubleshoot any concerns and monitor their progress.

Residents are excited and often waiting outside the gym to work out before the doors open every session. This initiative has given them the freedom to act directly on their personal fitness goals. 

“I have multiple sclerosis, which affects different parts of my body,” says Dianna Sangster. “I see the benefits of the gym. It actually helps my body not shut down so fast.”

George Aldrich is a resident who enjoys going to the gym as much as possible because it helps him stay in shape. “It’s good circuit training,” he says. “I spend about 15 minutes at each station in the hour-long class. My favourite part of the gym is discipline. When I’m left to myself, I don’t do it.” 

For other residents, the gym breaks up the monotony of the day with something active and social. 

Neil Victoriano practises pedalling to improve his strength and balance.

“Some residents have goals that we strive to accomplish and have had at least some degree of success,” says Mary.

Neil Victoriano, a resident since January 2017, has an objective to gain strength and balance so he can walk again.

“He’s more receptive to people,” says Lourdes Victoriano, Neil’s mom, who accompanies him to the gym every Friday. “When you say his name, he turns. He seems to be interactive with people now. His walking is no longer as wobbly as it was before.” 

The open gym has had a positive impact on many residents’ lives. One gentleman gained strength and was able to move to a unit with a lower level of care needs. For another, the extra exercise was the first step to moving out of long-term care to continue life independently

The gym has also had a positive impact on residents’ family members. They can provide support and encouragement, which allows them to be actively involved in their loved ones' care. 

“I came to meet a lot of residents down here who almost have the same problem as my son, and I realized that coming here, we improve my son’s chances of getting back to his former place,” says Lourdes. “It gives me hope. Without this program, I would be sitting in his room wondering if he will ever walk again.”

Mary adds that any time you can give residents choices over some aspect of their life, it enriches their life and motivates them to make good choices. “This choice in particular helps to give them the energy and mobility to do more with their lives.” 

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