Digital initiative gives isolated seniors access to therapeutic activities

Mandala making with Active Seniors

We’ve known for decades that therapeutic recreation—using engaging activities like music, games, or sports to enhance a person’s well-being—and creative arts are beneficial for older adults. But lack of access to in-person programs is an issue for many seniors living in the community, especially those living at home.

A new CABHI-funded project at Ottawa’s The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre is changing that.

Launched earlier this year, Active Seniors is a website where seniors and their caregivers can access high-quality therapeutic recreation and creative arts activities through how-to videos and resources. Users can learn flower arranging, mandala making, card games, and calming visualization exercises, among others. They can even watch a concert or get inspired to record their life story.

All of the content on the website was developed by Perley Rideau’s Therapeutic Recreation and Creative Arts Program staff. The activities are designed to help seniors maintain active minds, so they can age at home longer, happier, and become more engaged.

Some activities can be done alone, but many were developed for two or more people to do together—making it an especially valuable resource for caregivers.

“It can be quite challenging if you’re a senior and you’re supporting a loved one who is also a senior,” says Lacey Sheng, project lead and performance improvement consultant at Perley Rideau. “It’s hard to find things you can both enjoy to make that meaningful connection. The website can really help.”

The project team took extra care to include helpful tips for family members and caregivers in the introduction video, including how to modify activities according to a loved one’s ability.

The project team says that thanks to social media, word of mouth, and attention from the media, the website is reaching seniors in the wider Ottawa community and beyond. The team has been engaged by seniors’ support agencies, local church groups, and other community groups.

Lacey Sheng, project lead and performance improvement consultant at Perley Rideau

Lacey Sheng, project lead and performance improvement consultant at Perley Rideau

Merry, a user of the website living in northwestern Alberta, says she appreciates how instructions are accessible on written, auditory, and visual levels. She’s shared Active Seniors with a friend who is blind, who takes advantage of the resources by listening to the audio of the videos.

“I think these activities keep you grounded and help people express themselves,” Merry says. “I like that it covers all the areas of well-being: physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual. They haven’t left anything out.”

Inspiring a culture of innovation

Sheng says frontline staff had wanted to create something like Active Seniors for a long time, but it wasn’t until CABHI’s involvement that they could realize that dream.

The initiative was funded by CABHI’s Spark Program, which supports the testing and development of promising early-stage innovations in seniors’ care by point of care staff. The $50,000 in financial support was leveraged to develop the website, produce the high-quality videos, and market the resources.

“We were really happy to have the support from CABHI and from our CABHI portfolio manager, who checked in monthly and provided great feedback to us,” Sheng says. “The website would never have been made possible without it.”

Carolyn Vollicks, director of community outreach and programming, says Perley Rideau leadership has enthusiastically embraced the project. They’re working to support the website on an ongoing basis as it becomes an increasingly valuable offering.

She points to the culture of innovation the CABHI project has sparked for frontline staff: the encouragement to think creatively and actively pursue their big ideas.

“It’s given our staff permission to think beyond the walls of Perley Rideau, and offer what we do here to the wider community,” she says. “It’ll only bring us good things down the road.”