Cockatiels, Church, and More: The Important Role of Therapeutic Recreation

Bingo and bridge, live musical performances and plays, puzzle making and handcrafts—activities that may seem to be nothing more than pleasant hobbies in senior living actually serve an important function. Robust recreation programs are an important tool to promote the health and well being of elderly residents.

Studies have shown that stimulating the brain helps boost memory and cognitive function. The social interaction of group activities also promotes physical health. Loneliness has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and depression. So when seniors come together to engage with others, these connections provide tangible health benefits.

Every day at the Witherell, our residents can access group activities, or they can engage in solo pursuits, like knitting or reading. Leading the charge is our energetic and compassionate recreation director, Mary Bruce. Throughout her 40-year career at the Witherell (yes, that’s 40 years!), she has built a program that’s highly individualized. She and the recreation team engage directly with every resident to identify his or her interests to match them with a game, group, or activity. If nothing quite fits, they create something new.

“The best part of my job is interacting with the residents to make their quality of life better,” says Bruce. “If there is anything I can do to bring joy to someone’s day, it makes my day, too.”

At the Witherell, it’s our goal to bring the benefits of recreation to every resident. “Not long ago a resident arrived and he was extremely reclusive,” notes Bruce. “He didn’t want to leave his room. During our visits, I noticed that he enjoyed bird watching from his window. I then introduced him to our cockatiel, Noodles, first by bringing Noodles to his room, and then encouraging him to visit Noodles in our common areas. Over time he began visiting with Noodles outside in our Friendship Garden and in our solarium. Now he’s started joining church services, too.”

In addition to daily activities, the Witherell also recognizes major holidays—like Christmas, Hannukah, Veteran’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day, hosting festive celebrations for residents and their families. We also stage school choir group performances, and host intergenerational days. And, our quarterly Pooches on Parade events and regular visits from pet therapy teams, are a cherished tradition.

“By far our greatest strength is our ability to get to know every resident to help them make connections—either to peers or to activities—that enhance their health and make their lives enjoyable and meaningful,” says Bruce.

(Photo caption: Recreation Director Mary Bruce is pictured here with resident Elizabeth Riley during our St. Patrick’s Day event)





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