New programming is in the works for aging clients in the Forensic Treatment Unit at the Brockville Mental Health Centre (BMHC). Walking, chair fitness, balance and fall prevention, and hydration programs target client fitness to boost their health and inspire confidence.
“We have a patient gym, which is wonderful, but the clients that typically go there are physically able and mobile to do so, but there's a gap for those clients who are not so able and are intimidated by it,” says occupational therapist Dani Martin. “The clients here are aging, so there's a falls risk. Trying to improve their confidence as well, that was a big factor in developing new programming.”
The walking group started last summer. The group chooses a destination, and they calculate how many steps are needed to get there (virtually, of course). Each person’s step count is added to the group’s total after every outing. The province of PEI is the current goal. As they make their way, the group discusses local sights and landmarks. (For the record, it’s 1,647,867 steps from BMHC to Charlottetown PEI.) When the weather improves, they will venture off the grounds.
Walking is widely understood to be a great activity for physical fitness and mental health, but for forensic clients, there’s even more to it.
“Some of our clients here have been in the facility for many years,” reflects Erin Brunner, an occupational therapy assistant who works together with Martin. “The walking group is a great way – in a group setting – for them to slowly get their feet wet again in the community, get their bearings and gain their confidence about going out and not feel like people are judging them when they look at them.”
Soon to be introduced to select forensic clients is a “Sit and Be Fit” style of group to focus on chair exercises.
“The goal is just to get people moving,” describes Dani. “It’s therapeutic movement for people who aren't quite ready to go to the gym. Maybe they’re not confident or are just lacking motivation.”
What helps, of course, is having the support and encouragement to do it, as well as a consistent routine.
When it launches, the balance group will target forensic clients who would benefit from incorporating more movement into their routines to help prevent falls.
“If you do it multiple times during the week there can be big improvements,” says Brunner. “It’s social, it’s a nice interactive program, and it engages the clients in a different environment.”
The upcoming hydration program will be specific to clients who have a diagnosis of diabetes or are prone to other comorbidities. Details are still being worked out, but the goal is to increase clients’ understanding of the importance of hydration for health purposes, and simply to get people drinking more water.
A focus on fitness is beneficial for individuals in forensic care in many ways, including, of course, their mental health.
“That daily walk, for example, whether it's at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day, helps reduce stress. If you're anxious about going to work or prepping for when you get back into the community, it can certainly help,” says Dani.
Ultimately, the goal is to improve overall wellness and hopefully turn fitness into a healthy habit.
“Overall, we just want to make sure the clients have the best tools to better their life and make sure they can gain as much independence as they can, especially with the aging population,” says Erin. “No one likes to lose their independence. So giving them the tools to stay more active, motivated, and healthy as can be will allow them to gain the confidence they need.”