Virtual “journeys” for older kids

With the virtual reality headset elderly people can even see cultural monuments (photo by Alexia Tsagari).

Virtual “journeys” for older kids

Elderly entertainment through the “Thāllo” program
by Sakis Ioannidis

Arsinoi pulled me by the hand to lead me towards the centre of the small room. The tables were still messy after the morning activities and the smell of cooked meat from the kitchen nextdoor filled the air; she let her tripod cane and we danced as everyone around us were singing to the rhythm of Michalis Souyioul’s song “As’ ta ta mallakia sou – a well-known Greek waltz.

On the first floor, of the charity organization “Social Care of Moschato – Dionysios Theofilatos”, youth is a common topic for discussion. My dance partner, Ms Arsi, as her friends call her, is in her 70s and before we slowly started to swirl in the improvised dancefloor of the charity nursing home, she recalled her youth with the aid of technology and the “Thāllo” programme, a distinct recreational program implemented by “seveneleven” theatre company.

With the help of virtual reality, Arsi, together with Evangelia, Popi and Dimitris visited Paris and the Eiffel Tower. Wearing a VR headset with the help of Notis Paraskevopoulos, Arsi travelled to the french capital for a while, taking a short break, even if a digital one, from her daily routine. “We want people to be active, not passive participants in a recreational activity, to not just watch, but to choose the way they will be entertained on our next visit”, says Notis Paraskevopoulos, co-founder of the programme.

Together with Konstantina Maltezou and an extensive network of volunteers, the two actors are already visiting ten nursing homes in Attica, a number expected to rise, implementing the “Thāllo” programme thanks to a founding grant by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

“Like a company of friends”

“Our system is based on “associative thinking”; we move from one topic to another; a retrospective may lead to one’s favourite vacation, so that there is a fun mood. Just like when we meet old friends and talk about the past, these people also discover youthfulness and I think they enjoy it. While this is our job, I rather see it as a company of friends, bringing people close to me, despite the great age gap between us”, says Konstantina Maltezou.

Ms Maltezou puts a pair of headphones on Mr Dimitris’ ears and together they pick the songs he is going to listen to on the tablet, as the rest of the team is busy doing something else. Although this seems to be a simple everyday habit for most of us, the method of “isolated listening”, as the “Thāllo” team calls it, contributes to the creation of sound stimuli activating memory in people living with dementia.

“The method of isolated listening started from the group of bed-bound and bed-ridden residents we are visiting, people who cannot participate in our sessions and it would be a shame that they be deprived of recreational activities”, says Mr Paraskevopoulos and in this way patients “sing without minding if they are out of tune or if the others are not in the same tune, people with dementia are not afraid nor annoyed when they do not know the words, and everyone relives past times”.

The activities of the “Thāllo” programme offer comfort, peace of mind and entertainment to the residents of the nursing home (photo by Alexia Tsagari).

The programme includes activities of mental strengthening in the form of games, such as questions on proverbs, games with names of animal, actors and old Greek movies, of locations and cities, usually leading (as we witnessed during our visit) to a song of the old times. “Proverbs and other forms of mental strengthening activities, that are here carried out through games, help the elderly relax, reduce confusion, help with their mood swings because they keep them focused on something that they feel they can relate to”, notes Mr Paraskevopoulos.

The stories of the people at the Moschato nursing home and other care centres have come to life in the theatre play called “Violets and hyacinths” (“Meneksedes kai zoumpoulia”) written by the two actors and founders of Thāllo. Memories from Cape Town, from Kefalonia’s wine, the singing talent that has never been developed, the family that avoids visiting, a whole world of emotions usually overlooked, all this glowed at the performance.

To all of us who are not there yet, the third age is something vague, unspecified and lonely, usually combined with retirement from life and its adventures. Still, Mr. Paraskevopoulos says that at nursing homes he meets people who are free from inhibitions and ready to try something new fervently wishing to break the routine of the closed space.

“Total balance”

“People are liberated and talk about anything. Discussions will usually include the thematic of sex or even religious periods such as the Holly Week. They are especially fond of childhood, but they also talk about death. The closer they get to what we, the middle-aged people, see as the end, they become calmer and come to terms with themselves and with what is coming”.

The next step for the team is to further develop the virtual reality activity including videos from the elderly people’s hometowns. This way, Ms Arsi may be able to “see” and “walk” once again in her beloved Karpenisi.

Watch a video from the activity here

[Original article in Greek, can be accessed here ]

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