'It's the rhythm': Wheelchair-accessible swing brings joy to residents in Winkler care home

Staff at a Winkler care home say rocking on a new wheelchair-accessible swing isn't just fun — it also has therapeutic benefits for residents.

Soothing swinging motion unlocks memories, helps calm residents with dementia

Luella and Henry Klassen, a couple married for 56 years, enjoy their time together on Salem House's wheelchair-accessible swing. (submitted)

Although his wife Luella can no longer speak, Winkler's Henry Klassen has found a new way to connect with her — by swaying together on a swing.

"It's the rhythm. We just enjoy the moment and count our many blessings," Klassen said.

The Klassens are among the residents, families and staff at a personal care home in the southern Manitoba city of Winkler who have been experiencing the joy and freedom of swinging thanks to a new wheelchair-accessible swing.

A few weeks ago, Salem Home, a long-term care home, installed the swing in its central courtyard. It's been a huge hit, says Klassen.

The swing has become so popular the home hopes to buy at least one more. (submitted)
"Just joy and happiness and pleasure. You know, it just doesn't get any better," he said of the swing.

He and Luella, a Salem Home resident, have been married for 56 years. Although she can no longer speak, Henry says they are still "thick as thieves" and don't need words to know what each other is thinking. He says the swing gives them another way to connect.

"Of all the things we've done in our life, this gets back to all the good old days. And the days are precious, you know."

The swing looks like a regular garden swing with a covered canopy but one side accomodates a wheelchair, and the other side has a bench which can seat up to two adults, or even more wee ones.

"Imagine a grandma on one side, and two or three little grandchildren on the other side, being able to glide back and forth," said Marilyn Nelson, director of care services at the 145-resident home.

A lever helps the swing move back and forth. There's a little table in the middle, which provides cupholders for drinks.

"It's just wonderful. I don't know if I can do it justice in telling you all the things that I've seen," said Nelson, whose office window looks out over the swing, in a conversation with host Marjorie Dowhos on CBC's Radio Noon.

"They're just such joyful moments."

Benefits for residents with dementia

The swing also provides a therapeutic benefit for many of the residents who live with dementia.

"Sometimes those memories get locked up inside, and when they're on the swing and they experience that wonderful gliding motion — and possibly have a memory as a young child using a swing — it allows them to have the biggest smiles that I've ever seen," Nelson said. "The laughter that I've heard coming from that swing," she added.

"Recently a woman was swinging with a recreation therapist. The resident recalled a time when she was younger, and fell off a too-high pair of red stiletto shoes. She was just chuckling. And she continued to repeat this story to us throughout the day. And telling us, ' Don't wear red shoes!' It was delightful."

Nelson said the swing's calming affect has also led staff to notice a decrease in aggression in some residents who struggle with anger and frustration.

"It really does promote relaxation," she said. "It can be one of the most delightful things. It allows you to dream a little bit."

The WhisperGlide wheelchair swing costs about $9,000. The idea to purchase one for the home came from a family member who had seen a similar swing at Rest Haven Nursing Home in Steinbach, Man. Once the idea was brought back to Winkler, the Salem Home Ladies Auxilliary got busy with fundraising. A donation from a local business, D.A. Loewen Electric, put them over the top.

The only problem with the swing is its popularity — there's often a line up to use it. Nelson said the home could use three more, and she expects fundraising will allow them to purchase more.

The swings may also pop up at more homes around the province.  Nelson said right after the Radio Noon broadcast on Wednesday, she got a call from a rural nursing home.

"They were wondering about how to order one," she said.