By Dr. Sanet du Toit
Connectedness as an inherent sense of belonging is key to contact with others and vital to support a life worth living! Within the South African context this is highlighted even more due to many people who embrace the cultural value of Ubuntu and interconnectedness.
During the natural course of our lives several of our connections get lost, but unfortunately those living in residential care facilities appear to experience intensified feelings of disconnectedness. Therefore, care partners need to embrace the fact that we are facilitators of restoring relationships and/or building new connections. Cathy Greenblat’s pictures are wonderful examples of ways in which care partners foster connectedness and these pictures depicts elders with dementia enjoying a sense of belonging.
Reference: Google Images
These pictures also depict that connectedness associated with a sense of belonging spontaneously results in moments of shared joy. Shared joy and happiness are important themes within Australia’s Arts and Health Institute who hosted the second Play Up Convention in November 2014 at Sydney’s Luna Park. This event emphasized the importance of playfulness as the everyday pressures in care facilities often rob elders and care partners from experiencing joy. Being playful when we attempt to connect creates opportunities for shared humour and the potential for meaningful engagement is fostered.
Dr. Timothy Sharp, Chief Happiness Officer at the Happiness Institute gave a powerful presentation including various ideas for promoting positive ageing within care facilities. He stressed how contagious positivity is with an uplifting video of people who sing to strangers at airports (see link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NB3NPNM4xgo). Spontaneous actions, like singing a song with an elder’s name in the lyrics, confirm to that person that he/she matters.
Dr. Sharp also commented that careful consideration should be given to leisure access within facilities. Leisure activities promote a sense of belonging (while also encouraging physical and cognitive well-being). The implementation of leisure gave rise to lively debate, titled “Bingo, Bed or Life in stead“, during one of the convention sessions. Traditional leisure and lifestyle activities were considered and one participant queried whether activities should focus on bingo, belly dancing or bongo. She stressed that it all came down to choice: choosing what to do, when to do it and who to share the experience with…
Other ideas to consider for building community through connection are:
1. Assisting care partners to recognise their hidden talents, e.g.
- telling jokes;
- reading (but making sure whether the elder listening is fond of news or is a poetry person);
- playing a musical instrument
2. Introducing play grounds, e.g.
- a commercial café
- braai areas
- an Internet cafe or other technology (and proving assistance to master it)
- leisure clubs (for quilting, woodwork, scrapbooking, or art)
- bucket list activities (like scuba or sky diving!)
So many ideas and approaches are being generated to actively foster connectedness in attempts to promote resident-directed care. But I do wonder what my grandmother would have made of valets and clowns going around her home… At the age of 91, right until her last days on this earth, her excellent sense of humour, dignity and poise (she never left her room without lipstick and heeled shoes) made her an impressive woman. ‘Forced’ invasions of her domain would not have been looked upon kindly and I can imagine her saying, ‘Wat se stuitigheid is dit hierdie?‘ (What naughtiness is this?)
The concept of connectedness provides a lot of food for thought. I believe the scope for connectivity lies within each organisation – the people living and working there. No list of ideas could ever get near to making the most of what one’s got! It is not about resources and funding, but about knowing people. Elders and residents need to be known to belong. The time is now – get to know one another.