In Laredo, Texas, the recently opened Las Alturas Nursing & Transitional Care, a Touchstone Communities property, has the total resident in mind when devising activities and recreation, says Nicole Blanco, activities director and recreational therapist.
“As a recreational therapist, I focus on activities that are going to be more beneficial mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually … so that’s what I do,” she says. “I plan out all the activities for every single day and month.”
In doing so, Blanco says she makes sure programs are going to benefit residents’ bodies through exercise, as well as to ensure their spiritual beliefs are taken care of, providing religious services. Cognitively, the focus is on talking about history, the past, where residents came from, and with a continuous emphasis on taking care of their minds and having them active.
“I provide activities in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night they often will do their own leisure activity,” she says.
The broader goal is to focus on what activities can help to improve residents’ lives and quality of life through focusing on all the dimensions of a person’s health.
Class is in Session
One recent effort to fulfill her mission came when the Las Alturas administrator let Blanco know there were two desktop computers in the activities room for use.
“I thought it would be a good idea to teach the residents how to use them, she says. “Most of them haven’t had any experience with a computer before. The Laredo residents come from farming and outside work, and so computers are so different for them and most have never had an experience with one.”
This effort led to a partnership with the local public library in which the librarian comes to the facility and teaches the basics. Blanco also does some instructing since she has experience with computers, and this experience has led to some education of her own on how removed many of her residents were from modern technology in their lives before coming to Las Alturas.
“To me, grabbing the mouse and clicking things was normal. But, when I was teaching one of the residents I realized that she didn’t know how to move the mouse,” she says. “We knew then that we needed to implement a class about how to turn on the computer, how to move the mouse, how to click, how to use the keyboard, etc. We decided that was important before we started teaching them the Internet and social media.”
Taking on Many Roles
In an example of how the activities leader in a facility has to wear many hats, as well as the staff under the director, Blanco says she also focuses on the social aspect of a resident’s health and ties that to education efforts when possible.
Touchstone prefers to be referred to as a community. “It is a community,” she says. “I help create a community with the residents. They come and may be afraid that they may not know anyone, and classes like these help because they see others learning and taking part.”
There is also the need to work well with staff in other departments to help improve the quality of life for a resident.
“The nursing staff and CNAs [certified nurse assistants]—their job is to take care of their residents’ health in terms of medications, for example, and CNAs will help them get dressed,” Blanco says. “But, sometimes those staff will lean on me to provide residents an activity that improves their mood.”
An example of this cross-department teamwork came when a resident woke up in a terrible mood, and everyone was tiptoeing around him to prevent a conflict. The nursing staff “told me about it so that I could provide a good activity for the resident [to put him] in a good, positive frame of mind,” she says.
This checking up on residents is a routine part of the job. Every day at 9 a.m., Blanco says there is a morning meeting after which each staff member visits a room and talks to residents to make sure they are okay.
“A majority of the day I am able to see changes in the residents physically or cognitively, and I express that to the nursing staff and the director of nursing to make sure they are not declining or have an infection, for example,” she says.
100 Years Old and Teaching
Blanco says the best part of her work is the connection she has with residents. One such story she tells is about an “amazing connection I had with a 100-year-old lady at another facility. We still talk.”
While at the other community, Blanco says she learned that the woman didn’t like to participate in activities because she was partially blind and hard of hearing. “One time she told me she really enjoyed cooking and loved making desserts. She told me about a fruit salad she used to make. I told her she could teach us,” she says.
This offer thrilled the resident and brought her happiness in a way that neither she nor the staff working with her could have imagined.
“She had been independent all her life, and when she moved into the center, life was hard because she could no longer do anything by herself. And, so her teaching something to someone was a joy. She was so excited, she showed everyone how to do it, and she gave everyone a taste,” Blanco says.