IIn the living room of Regina Mundi’s nursing home in Lagos, 70-year-old Papa Rafael took himself out of his chair and wore virtual reality glasses. For nine minutes, Raphael dances to the folk tunes of his favorite singer, the late Ainla Omura, while watching a music video.
“Do you enjoy it?” One of the staff asks Raphael. He doesn’t answer, he is oblivious as he sings.
For more than a year, art teacher Conley Adewal has been visiting four nursing homes in the Nigerian city, taking virtual reality sets and tablets for isolated residents, and delivering doses of therapeutic entertainment.
When headphones are on, people can immerse themselves in songs, dancing, or exercise sessions, and even nature reserves. Some make digital art on tablets, make illustrations or edit photos.
“It’s about giving them joy, and that’s the most important thing that makes me happy about it,” Adewell says. “It brings something different for the day, to their routine. They love music and live it in a more powerful way. Some love dance sessions. For some, we realized they wanted something more calming so we downloaded sound therapy content to make them feel more calm. The amazing thing is that there are many of ways to use it and try it.”
Adewali, 40, was attending an elementary school when his mother, father and stepmother all died within four years. “My stepmother had a stroke, then she lost her memory. She couldn’t recognize us anymore so we used to try to make her happy in different ways, like singing songs.” Her condition led him to consider amnesia and “social therapies,” which are interactive ways to engage people with mental health conditions.
“One of the things we have as children in our culture is the belief that ‘my parents did all these things for me, so when the time comes, I will repay them.’ This is our culture of looking after our parents, but my culture is gone, so now I’m paying it to others.”
In Regina Mundi, Baba Festus, who has Down syndrome, performs an eclectic mix of movements during a dance tutorial.
Mama Ibadan, a retired teacher, has developed a penchant for digital art. One of her pieces is on display in the living room. Another business was recently sold.
From her wheelchair, Mama Polanel moved her head along to the music, a rare sign of activism for a woman who could barely speak. Staff say she hasn’t seen her family in years. One said, “They dropped it and hardly ever visited after that.” “At one point, we found out that her daughter had moved to the United States without telling us or her mother.”
Only three residents receive family visits, according to Regina Money’s director, Catholic nun Antonia Adewale. The biggest problem they face is loneliness. Oftentimes, their families come here and abandon them. You can see how it affects them, they become very withdrawn. We do our best to support and encourage them, and this program also helps them become more active and engaged. “
Adewale says nursing homes are not desirable in Nigeria, due to the cultural emphasis on family care for the elderly. “Your children are like your inheritance, so people feel that if you have children, why are you left alone in a house somewhere? It is a sensitive issue.”
This is changing among the young, and it is a reality that is difficult to accept for the older generation. “Moving in is very difficult for them. We try to advise family members to come see them, not only to drop them here, but it often happens that way.”
The buzzing of fans and generators trains at home as the days follow a consistent routine around meal times and prayers. Kind acts bring welcome interruptions. Well-wishers sometimes send fabrics to make new clothes for residents, sponsor special meals, or come for a visit like Kunle Adewale. “I feel very strongly that these homes should not be a place where people feel alone or left behind. We should strive to find ways to help them become more active places where they can interact socially and enjoy dignity.”
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