Day program helps reconnect seniors with brain injury

Alastair McNeil still struggles with his memory after suffering a brain injury in a workplace accident three years ago. Since then, he has focused on regaining an active life.

KITCHENER, Ont. — Alastair McNeil still struggles with his memory after suffering a brain injury in a workplace accident three years ago.

Since then, he has focused on regaining an active life.

Joining a special day program for seniors with acquired brain injuries in Kitchener, Ont., has given the Cambridge man a push to that goal.

“I really like it. I think it’s a great program,” said McNeil, who is 75.

“I’m getting back to getting busy again. That’s the main thing for me.”

Beginnings is a social and recreational day program hosted by Traverse Independence, a non-profit organization that helps adults with brain injuries and physical disabilities become independent and self-sufficient.

It started in early 2009 for older brain injury survivors who needed more support than offered by the agency’s drop-in program run in association with the Brain Injury Association of Waterloo-Wellington.

“There were a number of people who were living at home, older adults who were not able to participate in the activities,” said Kathy Daley, service co-ordinator.

Some of the seniors needed more attention because of physical disability, difficulty with personal care and socializing. Anxiety and sensitivity to noise are common after acquired brain injuries, which are the result of trauma such as a car crash or stroke.

Staff also have fewer people to care for there, allowing one-on-one time when needed. There are three staff for 10 people at Beginnings, compared to four staff for 45 people at the nearby Opportunity Centre.

“This affords us the opportunity to individualize programs,” Daley said.

Often participants from the two programs join for activities, such as the morning Let’s Chat session to discuss a newspaper article.

“We didn’t want this program to be isolated,” Daley said. “One of the objectives is to socialize.”

The program is free and most days there are about 10 seniors age 55 and older at the centre, although there are as many as 30 to 40 people in the program; not everyone comes every day.

Not only do participants benefit, but also their caregivers. Respite for caregivers is another objective and a survey found caregiver strain reduced by almost 30 per cent.

Those results helped the program gain funding from the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network under Ontario’s Aging at Home strategy, intended to relieve pressure on emergency rooms and hospitals by reducing the number of unnecessary visits and admissions by seniors by supporting them at home. The agency also benefits from donations.

In the wake of a brain injury, a person’s life can change drastically. Their social circle can shrink, marriages can end and a person may need help with daily activities.

Daley said people are often not too keen to come initially, but they begin to feel comfortable, relationships grow and they enthusiastically join in activities such as gentle exercise classes, bingo and games. Lunch is also provided with the support of the food bank.

“This is a part of their day-to-day routine,” Daley said.

McNeil comes to the centre most days, joining just about every activity. And that brings peace of mind to his wife.

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