From bored to activity board

November 29, 2017

Registered Nurse and gadget guru Darcy Charters proudly displays one of her custom activity boards.

Calgary nurse gets crafty to improve the lives of her elderly dementia patients

Story and photo by Blain Fairbairn

CALGARY  — A self-proclaimed ‘fidgeter’, Registered Nurse Darcy Charters knows how a little fiddling with one’s fingers can reduce stress and calm nerves.

So when a dementia patient, who’s also a fellow fidgeter, was admitted to her unit at the Rockyview General Hospital (RGH), she put her skills and energy to good use by building activity boards that allow patients to twiddle and tinker to their heart’s content.

“He fiddled and fussed for a living,” says Charters, in describing her patient’s profession as a building inspector. “He was my starting point. He got me thinking ‘we need something for our patients to play with.’”
It’s well-known that elderly dementia patients can become restless and agitated in hospital, especially when there’s limited social, sensory and physical input over long periods.

In the past, RGH’s Volunteer Resources team had provided patients with activity mats that offer various colours, textures and actions to engage patients. Charters, however, identified a particular need for something more tactile and rugged — especially for males.

Each activity board is a unique creation and features many interactive components such as bolts, screws, zippers, hooks, locks and latches to challenge and focus patients’ fine motor skills. Similar boards have been used in long-term care facilities for years and have proven a useful resource to calm and occupy dementia patients.

Since Charters introduced the first few boards to her unit, Volunteer Resources has stepped up to help make more and distribute them throughout the site. RGH’s Infection Prevention Control team has offered its expertise to ensure each board can be easily disinfected and shared among patients.

Activity boards are a great example of AHS’ Elder Friendly Care (EFC) program in action. This initiative promotes evidence-informed interventions that aim to prevent and address common geriatric issues of delirium, falls, immobility, functional decline and malnutrition.

Virginia Meyer, RGH’s Executive Director, Medicine, Cardiology, Neurology and Acute Geriatrics, says the activity boards are just one way staff are improving the hospital stays of aged patients.

“We’re really trying to get some momentum with a few different elder-friendly care initiatives at Rockyview,” she says. “Activity boards are one, but we’re also trying to get units engaged with Music for Mood, a program that uses era-appropriate music to help reduce anxiety and aggressive behaviours in some late-stage dementia patients.”

For Charters, who’s also knit numerous ‘cuddle dolls’ for dementia patients to snuggle, finding a productive outlet for her restless hands proved a welcome opportunity — and she’s grateful patients are responding so positively to her latest creations.

“It was fun,” she says. “My student told me, ‘he’s fiddled with it for hours.’ I love hearing that because it means the activity board’s doing its job.”