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Zev Stub    
Tuesday, 12 March 2:18 PM

How Recreational Therapy Helps Seniors and Adults with Disabilities Enhance Quality of Life While Having Fun


EK, a former accountant and business owner, suffers from moderate dementia and is legally blind. His wife noticed that he had been losing interest in interacting with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, opting to sit in front of the TV all day rather than expend the effort it required to continue engaging in activities he had once enjoyed. She became concerned, and began searching for ways to help him. She found Zehava Waltzer.

Zehava Waltzer works as a recreational therapist/geriatric specialist. She brings over 20 years of experience working with adults and senior adults privately and in adult care settings. Research shows that older adults maintain a sharper mind and a higher level of social involvement when they engage in activities that are meaningful to them. People recovering from physical injuries or adapting to disabilities also stay healthier longer when they are physically and socially active. From this, we understand that there is a strong connection between health and recreation. Recreation Therapy (RT) is a type of therapy that harnesses this connection to promote better health in the elderly, the ill, and people with disabilities. Through play, recreation and leisure, RT helps individuals achieve psychological and physical recovery as well as health and well-being. Recreational therapists like Zehava use counseling techniques and activity-based interventions to maximize an individual's functioning and promote quality of life.

During Zehava’s initial assessment, she discussed with EK and his wife what types of topics and activities had interested him over the years. She took this information and used it to build a program that included chair exercise, Jewish trivia and current events. As she got to know EK better, she also incorporated discussion of the Jewish holidays, singing, walks outside to enjoy the fresh air, among other activities.

Recreational Therapy vs. Occupational Therapy

Recreational therapists use techniques different from those used in traditional physical or occupational therapy. A recreational therapist might suggest yoga, an adventurous walk around the neighborhood (or to the mailbox) or dance to an individual wanting to improve their physical stamina. To improve fine motor skills, a recreational therapist may propose gardening, cooking or a craft project. Instead of traditional psychological counseling, she might recommend singing, trivia or writing memoirs as an outlet for someone with a mental health condition. “We have the same treatment goals; we just achieve them differently," Waltzer says. "We are more interactive, building on our clients’ strengths and interests in order to reach those goals.”

What Recreational Therapy Does

Broadly defined, RT means  using purposeful recreation and leisure to address the specific needs and goals of individuals living with disabilities, based on a holistic framework focusing on all aspects of improving an individual’s health and functioning. Their needs may include, but are not limited to, mental health, physical rehabilitation, developing effective social skills and community integration. By providing structured and unstructured therapy-driven services, providers use therapeutic recreation for improving physical abilities, mental health, building confidence and promoting greater self-reliance.

What It Involves

Recreational therapy may take many different forms. Therapeutic activities could include sports, crafts, dance, time spent with animals, stress reduction techniques, music, games and community outings, to name a few. These activities can provide mental and physical stimulation for clients, and some activities may help the patients develop specific skills. Sometimes, recreational therapy is used to help the client build confidence, enhance social skills, and even to integrate more into his or her community.

Recreational therapies may help clients recover basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities, build confidence, and socialize more effectively. Because of this variety, individualized goals and treatment plans are crucial.

While Zehava finds that EK still needs encouragement, he no longer sits in front of the TV all day. His eyes light up when engaging in discussion about what’s going on in the world around him. Now he enjoys singing with his great-grandchildren. Thanks to Zehava’s intervention, he’s getting exercise and maintaining his physical, cognitive and social abilities through activities that bring him joy.


About the Therapist

Zehava Waltzer is a Jerusalem-based recreational therapist and geriatric specialist who helps seniors and adults with illness or disability improve or maintain cognitive and physical function through enjoyable activities. To schedule a no-obligation, in-home assessment, call 058-763-8728, or email zwaltzer@gmail.com.

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