New Brunswick

Dollhouse teaches how to prevent falls

A community project in the Saint John area uses a dollhouse to teach children how to prevent falls in the home, with the hope they'll share the information with the older adults in their lives, given that more than half of falls in that population happen in and around the home.

Toy teaches children to watch for hazards in the home with hope word passes to grandparents

Dollhouse used to teach how to prevent falls 4:02

A community project in the Saint John area aims to reduce the number of falls in older adults by educating their grandchildren.

The Safety Superheroes program employs volunteers, who are all 50 or older, to take a couple of special dollhouses around to area schools.

Volunteers tell classes a story about preventing falls, the children put on superhero capes, and then they're asked to examine the dollhouse for hazards — such as tiny plastic puddles in front of the bathtub and objects on the stairs —and correct them.

Wearing their superhero capes, children try to spot and correct fall hazards in the dollhouse. (Roger Cosman - CBC)
The dollhouses were built by residents at the Ridgewood Veterans Wing, and decorated by patients at St. Joseph's Hospital. The Safety Superheroes program itself was developed by an expert in British Columbia, Fabio Feldman, and is aimed at children from kindergarten to Grade 3.

In Anglophone School District South, volunteers have visited about a dozen schools so far, and the occupational therapist co-ordinating the program in the Saint John region, Lori Patterson, says there's a waiting list for 2016.

More than half of falls happen at home

More than 50 per cent of falls in older adults happen in and around the home, Patterson says, and this project aims to help prevent those injuries.

She says seven years ago a community needs assessment was completed in Saint John, related to preventing falls, and it found that although people answered 'yes' to having indicators that made them more at risk of falling, many didn't take that risk seriously.

They listen to their grandchildren.- Lori Patterson, occupational therapist

Patterson says that's part of the thinking behind educating the family members of those older adults.

"They listen to their grandchildren," Patterson said. "Grandparents typically will maybe take that a bit more seriously than if an occupational therapist comes in and says, 'You really should have a grab bar.' Then the child comes in and says, 'Grandma, you don't have a grab bar in the tub!' That might make more of a difference to them too."

"Kids learn that if they spill their cup, they need to wipe up their milk or wipe up their water when they're visiting their grandma and grandpa...we scatter boots and shoes and bookbags around, so they know they need to pick them up," she said.

Therapeutic benefits

People connected to the Safety Superheroes project say it doesn't just benefit the children and their family members. An activity worker in recreation at St. Joe's, Rita Brideau, says it has meant a lot to patients to take part in the project.

"They've been picking out fabric colours to do the curtains, one patient took up crocheting again, to make a nice bedspread for the bed," said Brideau. "Another patient donated a lot of tole painted items she's done in the past — they're miniature, so they work well in the house."

John Stevenson, a resident at Ridgewood Veterans Wing in Saint John, helped paint the dollhouses. (Roger Cosman - CBC)
Patterson says the collaboration between Ridgewood Veterans Wing and St. Joe's restorative care has been wonderful to see. She says residents and patients have worked on the houses as part of the recreation therapy and occupational therapy programs.

"You're really looking at engagement, reminiscing about the dollhouse, using fine motor skills to put together the dollhouse and painting and putting the furniture together … it's working on the project, but it's also working on their rehabilitation and activity," she said.

It's a comment echoed by Ridgewood occupational therapist, Patty Black, who recounts the story of a resident who found peace in the facility's woodworking shop.

"For example, there was a fellow who had significant, severe dementia," said Black. "And there'd be behaviours you'd get with dementia — agitation, restlessness — so my job was to find an activity that best suited his skill-set and medical needs."

"He couldn't sit at a meal for three minutes, because the environment he was in was very busy, he was distracted...[so I placed him in] a quiet woodworking space. He was there ... with my assistant, and he was able to paint for an hour and a half."

Another resident at Ridgewood Veterans Wing, John Stevenson, who helped paint the dollhouses, says it felt good to be involved.

"Being in here, things can get tiresome," he said. "To have something like this going on and putting our time into something we feel is useful, it's very nice to have this going on and have us involved in it."

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