Virtual program keeps connections going for seniors

May 15, 2020

Dietitian Day

Didsbury resident Rennie Lutz looks forward each week to the activities offered by the virtual Go the Distance program.

Dietitian Day

Recreation Therapist Brandee Elliott went online to start the virtual Go the Distance program after the in-person Adult Day Program closed its doors in March.

Recreation therapist moves online after COVID closure

Story by Greg Harris | Photos by Leah Hennel

DIDSBURY — Rennie Lutz has loved participating in the Adult Day Program in his town since 2014, when he started attending while recovering from cancer.

Whether it’s the trivia games, the cooking activities, the swimming or the socializing, the program has given the Didsbury resident something to look forward to.

“It’s the highlight of the week,” says Lutz, now 65 and retired. “It gets me out of the house and I’m excited about it and I just really enjoy all the programs there.”

When the program closed on March 16 due to COVID-19, Recreation Therapist Brandee Elliott knew its loss would be keenly felt.

“I quickly realized that we needed to provide more for our clients during this time, particularly those who are isolated with limited family support,” Elliott says.

She came up with the idea for a new virtual program called Go the Distance, which is keeping more than 80 seniors in Didsbury, Strathmore and Airdrie connected during the pandemic.

Elliott and her team of six therapy assistants in the Rural NE Integrated Home Care team now stay in touch with day program and home care clients by phone or through Zoom calls. During the 30-minute sessions, seniors get to socialize and stay cognitively sharp with activities like trivia games, Name that Tune, and reminiscing exercises.

“It’s so important for our seniors and members of our community to keep connected,” Elliott adds. “Many of our clients are already quite isolated and that’s where our day program comes in, bringing people together to connect socially.”

Elliott regularly collects feedback from clients and they overwhelmingly report that the phone calls or Zoom sessions help improve their mood, thanks to the cognitive stimulation and socialization opportunities.

Lutz says that although he no longer physically attends the program, it remains a highlight of his week.

“They phone and we do trivia and stuff like that over the phone. I get up and get dressed and sit there and wait for it just like I’m going to the program. It’s the highlight of my day on Tuesday.”

“The big thing is you feel connected. This keeps you positive and upbeat.”

The new program is being very well received — and it’s now expanding to other zones. Elliott has trained 54 other staff from 16 day programs in the North, Edmonton and Calgary zones.

Recreation therapist Sabrina Ball, Clinical Lead, Day Programs – North Zone, and others have supported the work over the past six weeks, she says.

 “I couldn’t have done this without the amazing team behind me, beside me, and above me,” Elliott says of her colleagues in the Rural NE Integrated Home Care team.