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Community Care

Spontaneity as a Prescription

Jules Roebbelen
June 3, 2020

Bill Thomas started a new job at a nursing home. He soon identified the “Three Plagues” of nursing home existence as boredom, loneliness and helplessness. Not long after he started his job, staff were encouraged to bring their children to the nursing home after school, and soon they built a garden and a playground in the backyard. They introduced 2 dogs, 4 cats and hundreds of live plants. Soon, they had 100 birds with cages delivered to the home. Every senior who wanted a bird in their room could have one. The changes they saw in the residents were incredible and unprecedented. Residents who hadn’t spoken in years began talking again, first to their birds and then to other people. They offered to take the dogs for walks. People volunteered for plant watering duty. Everyone would share their bird-raising stories at meal times. It was spontaneity, it was out of the routine, and it was working. Life was breathed back into the home. Prescriptions were reduced by half, particularly drugs to help with agitation. Death rates reduced by 15%.

Thomas believed "that the difference in death rates can be traced to the fundamental human need for a reason to live.”

Spontaneity. Breaking the routine is one of the most fundamental points of alleviating isolation and loneliness.

While most nursing homes cannot (or should not) commit to hundreds of plants and animals, there are much more manageable ways to introduce spontaneity to the lives of the residents.

Seniors with dementia have scheduled “play dates” with a children’s day care program in the same building. This offers respite for the day care workers (on both sides) and allows the seniors to exercise their minds, stave off loneliness and just have some fun. Fostering relationships and spontaneity is simply life-giving to the residents who may not have regular visitors. For many, it is the highlight of their week to have a conversation with a silly, energetic three year old. Other programs encourage seniors to read to kindergarten students. Connecting seniors with young children provides health benefits beyond mental stimulation. Not only are the children learning how to read, the seniors truly feel like they have something to look forward to in the day beyond meal times and movie night. They’re given a newfound purpose. A fundamental human need for a reason to live.

Our seniors deserve a greater level of care and connection with other programs. Having a network of care organizations can encourage these beautiful and unconventional partnerships. Organizing a senior’s group to participate in a young children’s program will likely improve the mental, social and physical well being of the residents. Spontaneity, responsibility and general lack of boredom can do a world of difference. We dare you to be spontaneous, and to prescribe it daily.

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