Tofield recreation therapist makes life fun for long-term care residents
January 13, 2021
/News & Events/Tofield recreation therapist makes life fun for long-term care residents
Everyone likes to have fun, whether they are one or 100.
So, if Nicole Kulba is taking care of you, consider yourself lucky.
As a recreation therapist, Kulba is considered one of the “fun people” at the Tofield Health Centre, at least according to the residents in long-term care and the dementia care unit.
“We’re not making you do your exercises or … making you do things you don’t want to do,” said Kulba, explaining her role promoting recreation for residents differs from that of other health-care providers who must carry out some not-so-fun tasks.
[Recreation therapists] are aiming to support the client, (the resident in a long-term care facility) … in maintaining their enjoyment of leisure activities.” -Pauline Andringa, Allied Health area manager, Alberta Health Services
Kulba believes it’s vital to maintain the quality of life of residents—no matter their physical or mental abilities—both for their own sake and for their families. It’s this attitude that saw Kulba selected as the Innovative Practitioner of the Year in 2019 by the Alberta Therapeutic Recreation Association.
While other people often look at her job as playing around and having fun, Kulba stresses her occupation has its serious side.
“You’re ‘on’ emotionally … all day, which can be very strenuous after an eight- or 12-hour shift, that’s for sure,” said Kulba.
She wouldn’t have it any other way. Kulba has worked at the Tofield health facility for nearly seven years and says it’s her mission to make sure the 50-or-so residents have a smooth transition into the health centre and enjoy their time there.
“It’s really sad when you hear [the relative of a dementia patient say] ‘that’s not my dad’ or ‘that’s not my mom.’ It’s like, well, it is just a different version…. My hope is to highlight that new version [of that individual] and show that it’s also great.”
According to Lynn Damberger, manager of long-term care and home care at the Tofield Health Centre, what stands out most about Nicole is “she is all about possibilities.”
“There’s never anything that’s out of the realm of consideration for her,” Damberger explains. “She’s really good at just exploring every avenue to make sure that we’re meeting the residents’ needs and their wishes from a recreation capacity.
“She doesn’t stop at anything that’s a ‘no’ or anything that is impossible.”
In one instance, Kulba organized a “wedding” for a resident from another facility who was missing his female companion who lived at the Tofield Health Centre. While neither person was capable of marriage, Kulba—with the agreement of both families and guardians—arranged an unofficial ceremony complete with a veil, floral bouquet, wedding cake, and keepsake photos for the bride and groom.
Kulba understands the role of a recreation therapist and the direction the field is headed, explains Pauline Andringa, an Allied Health area manager with Alberta Health Services in the Central Zone, which includes the Tofield facility.
“[Recreation therapists] are aiming to support the client (the resident in a long-term care facility) … in maintaining their enjoyment of leisure activities,” said Andringa. “If you think about your life, a lot of your enjoyment is your leisure activities. And our residents, by the time they get to us, are very restricted in their ability to independently engage in leisure activities.”
Kulba also has a knack for finding new technology that’s specially designed for long-term care residents, say her managers.
The ABBY, a wall-mounted interactive computer that resembles an old clock radio, gives residents an opportunity to play games, watch videos or photos, listen to music, or even replicate actions such as driving a vehicle.
“We have a resident right now, and he [says] ‘I need to get in my truck; I need to drive to the farm,’” said Kulba, encouraging him to go for a ride.
“I’ll bring his wheelchair over in front of the ABBY and [say] ‘give the wheel a turn. Let’s start the car’.… We can even see his foot move on the floor like he’s pressing the accelerator.”
Judy Freeman, 71, perked up when she moved from acute care to long-term care in April 2020. After a massive stroke caused complete paralysis on her right side, it was a depressing and anxious time, said her daughter Catharine Freeman.
Catharine was initially hesitant to have her mother moved to long-term care, but she’s confident she made the right decision.
Kulba’s ability to speak to the residents at an adult level has made a big difference for both Catharine and Judy.
Even a simple gesture such as Kulba thickening an iced cappuccino that Catharine brought as a treat for her mother speaks volumes.
“When she sees Nicole, mom’s face just lights up,” said Catharine. “They have a good little friendship.”